Nicolas Claxton
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

It’s officially time Kenny Atkinson and the Brooklyn Nets consider rookie Nicolas Claxton as a starting NBA player.

Through 12 games, the Brooklyn Nets defense is ranked 21st in the league per 100 possessions. This is the primary reason they’re stuck with a 5-8 record. It’s also part of the reason Nicolas Claxton should start be inserted into the starting lineup.

Their schedule, thus far, has been relatively easy compared to the rest of the league, despite coming off a long and difficult road trip.

The Nets defeated Portland and Chicago, but lost badly to Phoenix. They also gave away big leads in Utah and Denver as the team crumbled in the second half of both of those games, respectively.

Adding injury to insult, Caris LeVert suffered a thumb sprain that required surgery. He will be out for at least 4-6 weeks. Additionally, Kyrie Irving is banged up with right shoulder impingement. He missed the game against Chicago and is questionable going forward.

Despite the loss of LeVert and Irving’s shoulder issue, the Nets’ offense is still flourishing. The defense, however, remains a major concern moving forward.

Enter Claxton.

His time has been increasing, but he’s only averaging 13.8 minutes per game over his last five games.

In those minutes, he’s shown flashes of defensive brilliance, containing potent offensive players like CJ McCollum and Devin Booker on the perimeter.

Claxton’s drop pick and roll coverage has been a revelation as well. Many experts are already calling him the best switchable big on defense on the perimeter in his draft class. Claxton’s length, quick footwork and ball mirroring are much-needed assets for this struggling Nets defensive team.

The slender Claxton has not been a liability against other team’s bigs either. Using his high motor, he has a nose for the ball and doesn’t give up on plays. Most importantly, he boxes out on virtually every possession which cannot be said for the rest of the Nets.

He can defend shooting guards, small forwards, power forwards, some centers and even some point guards on the perimeter as well. He can also help on the interior. Very few players at his size have this defensive versatility and Atkinson should utilize him more.

Claxton’s intangibles don’t directly show up in his box scores yet, but he is positively impacting this team. He is doing it on offense too. He’s yet to score in double figures but when he’s on the floor the offense runs smoothly.

In 69.1 minutes of game action, he’s yet to commit a single turnover. For a rookie, that’s very impressive. Given the Nets problems with turnovers, ranking 18th in the league in turnover percentage, this is even more reason to consider starting Claxton.

While his 3-point shooting has been nonexistent, when Claxton is on the floor, he sets perfect screens for his teammates. He shows good court vision, makes smart passes and knows how to relocate to open spots. His lack of 3-point shooting is not a liability to floor spacing as a result. The offense is fluid since Claxton is a willing passer.

In the last game against Chicago, he showed the ability to initiate fast breaks off his own rebounds and finish strong on the fast break in transition.

He also showed he can play in the post.

Here is another play showing Claxton finishing over Lauri Markkanen.

If he can make plays like this over 7-footers on a regular basis, the Nets have indeed found a franchise player for their future and a player who can contribute now.

Spencer Dinwiddie said Claxton was the second most talented player on the Nets.

This is high praise and Claxton’s recent play bolsters Dinwiddie’s assertion.

The only flaws in Claxton’s game right now are his 3-point shooting and free-throw shooting, but with more experience and repetitions in practice, he should improve in these areas. Unfortunately, these shortcomings may be the reasons Atkinson is not ready to start Claxton now.

However, the case can be made that so long as Atkinson surrounds Claxton with three shooters on the floor, he may not be as big of a liability as Atkinson thinks he is to his small-ball strategy.

With all the defensive woes the Nets have, inserting Claxton into the starting lineup could be the catalyst to shoring up that glaring team deficiency.

With LeVert sidelined, it wouldn’t be difficult to fit Claxton into the starting lineup since he can guard so many positions. Atkinson can simply move Taurean Prince to small forward (his natural position) and Joe Harris to shooting guard. He can deploy Claxton at power forward and still be able to mix and match Jarrett Allen or DeAndre Jordan at center.

If Atkinson is reluctant to start Claxton, he should at least make sure the rookie gets 25 minutes per game. He’s certainly earned it.

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