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Brooklyn Nets Nic Claxton & Dzanan Musa Start to Carve Out Roles

Five-game road trip offered opportunity seized by 20-year-olds

The Brooklyn Nets were back at Barclays Center on Monday night, looking a little different than the last time they took their home court a full two weeks ago. The interim had featured a five-game road trip, the team’s longest of the season.

Along the way, they lost guard Caris LeVert for an extended stretch following thumb surgery, and they added veteran Iman Shumpert. Shumpert made his Nets debut Saturday in Chicago with Kyrie Irving also out due to a shoulder impingement, as he was again in Monday night’s 115-86 loss to the Pacers.

“That’s just the reality of the NBA,” said Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson before the game. “Thinking of Indiana, they don’t have (Malcolm) Brogdon tonight. Every night, this is a tough league. You have injuries. You have to be able to overcome them. That’s why you have to have a deep roster. Your development of your end of the roster is so important. That’s why those guys are so important. Your G League is huge. We’ll have (Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot) active tonight. We need more depth and more players to be able to supplant some of our absences.”

The road trip offered the possibility that the Nets may have found contributors in 20-year-olds Nic Claxton and Dzanan Musa.

For Claxton, it was the first NBA action, period. The rookie out of Georgia had not played at all in Brooklyn’s first seven games. But with DeAndre Jordan out against Portland due to a sprained ankle on the opening game of the trip, Atkinson for 12 minutes, and he delivered eight points and six rebounds.

Claxton showed off the energy and athleticism that made an impression on Atkinson during training camp, as well as during some preseason fourth-quarter minutes. When Jordan returned on the second game of the trip, Claxton stayed in the rotation, getting most of his minutes at the four spot.

“Well, we’re playing him at the four, the power forward position,” said Atkinson. “Maybe stylistically it’s not exactly what we want system-wise. It doesn’t matter. We need his talent. He can affect the game in other ways. Another guy that’s not afraid to shoot it. At Georgia, he shot a ton of threes. I think he’s capable. He does everything we ask him, we need his rebounding, we need his ability to run the floor. His rebounding is huge, offensive rebounding, he’s defensively hard to finish on. So, take all those positives and the talent and with our absences, he needs to play and he will play.”

Musa saw some limited minutes over Brooklyn’s first seven games, but steadily increased his role over the course of Brooklyn’s week-plus on the road.

“Believe me, I don’t care about nothing else, just playing,” said Musa. “I’m that kind of guy. I love basketball. I love being on the court. I love competing. So that’s what I’m trying to do consistently every night.”

It’s what he was committed to during the offseason after spending most of his rookie season in the G League on Long Island. Musa was methodical, breaking down his summer into segments, climbing the ladder in a personal proving ground: Summer League, August workouts at HSS Training Center with teammates, training camp.

And when it didn’t result in minutes at the start of the season, he wasn’t deterred.

“To be honest, I knew that time would come soon for me to be in the rotation,” said Musa. “I was ready because I went to the practices. Every gameday I was working hard in the extra work group. I was just ready. You’ve got to have that mentality. I have that mentality which I just want to play and I want to do anything that’s in my power to do that.”

The chance came as the Nets crisscrossed the Western Conference. He had 12 points in Phoenix, 10 in Utah, and played 29 minutes with the Nets shorthanded in Saturday’s win in Chicago.

“First of all, keep shooting it. We need it,” said Atkinson. “I know his percentage is not great right now, but we’ve seen it all offseason and last year that he can shoot the ball. I think teams respect him. They know that’s part of his DNA that he can shoot the ball. I thought when we drafted him that he was much more than that. He’s one of our most-skilled players quite honestly. He can pass. And I think he’s desperate to land a mark. He’s been that way all offseason. I’ve seen big, big growth with him.

“Obviously, we put him out there a bunch of minutes, and we’ll do it again tonight. I just love his gumption and his will. It’s not perfect. I think his turnovers have to be controlled a little bit, do a little better there. But I think the more playing time he gets, the better he’s going to get.”

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