Nicolas Claxton
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

Even though his time with the Brooklyn Nets has been brief, Nicolas Claxton is already emerging as a bright spot.

Yeah, this season has been nothing short of frustrating. However, there is reason to be optimistic—without sacrificing rationality—if you’re a Brooklyn Nets fan. There is frustration with the team’s overall record and level of play, but optimism about the efforts of a certain rookie.

Sitting at 18-24 in the middle of January, it appears that those who called this season ‘”experimental” back in the summer were correct. However, though it’s never fun to admit when you’re wrong—like I am currently doing—there is one experiment that has proved fruitful: Nicolas Claxton.

This type of article is usually reserved for teams that are destined for the lottery. It’s time to advocate for a rookie to see an increase in playing time.

Despite an absolute trashing by the league-best Milwaukee Bucks, hope remains. Why? Because Nicolas Claxton is showing encouraging signs, and not just against Milwaukee either. He’s been a consistent spark plug when incorporated into the rotation.

Against the Philadelphia 76ers on MLK Day, the rookie chipped in with 15 points on 6-of-8 from the floor. In 19 minutes against the Bucks on Saturday night, Claxton recorded 14 points, six rebounds, three blocks, and an assist. In a game that was excruciating for any fan of the franchise to watch, his energy on both ends provided a semblance of excitement and happiness.

With Kyrie Irving’s recent comments for additional help, the whole roster has been put on notice. There have been unfortunate circumstances surrounding this rough start, no doubt, but the message is remaining the same: This team has aspirations of hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy.

Which means, the pressure is mounting. Players have to show head coach Kenny Atkinson, the rest of the coaching staff, and general manager Sean Marks that they’re worthwhile long-term investments. Oh, and most importantly, they have to show that to Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

Which, thus far, seems perfectly okay with the 20-year-old. He just wants a platform to showcase his capabilities. He knows he is perceived as a project, but that does not mean he can’t play.

Defense

His energy and activity on both ends of the floor are welcoming. Now, he’s not exactly a polished product. He is sometimes caught out of position or a little too overzealous looking to block a shot, but that’s to be expected at this stage in his career.

Mistakes are going to happen as he develops. It sounds redundant, but learning from those mistakes and avoiding them in the future is going to be crucial in the maturation process. Because once his basketball I.Q. elevates and learns to handle the fast-moving nature of the NBA, his natural physical attributes will be maximized.

He’s switchable on the defensive end. He can step up to the perimeter and keep much smaller players in front. He’s got an incredibly high motor and can disrupt opposing offense’s flow with his length. These are all things the Nets could really use.

Offense

Now on the offensive end of the floor, he’s greener. The potential is there for a dynamic offensive game, but it’s still a work in progress. In other words, he’s still raw.

In his two years at the University of Georgia, Claxton showcased a solid face-up game. He could take defenders off the dribble with his adequate handle, or knockdown long-range jump shots with decent—not great—efficiency.

Thus far in the NBA he almost exclusively acts as a roll man in the pick-and-roll, runs screen handoffs for perimeter players, or gets his baskets off of hustle plays. Essentially, he’s curtailing his game to fit the Atkinson system for big men.

Though he’s compiled some good games within the flow of the offense, it’s important to use him differently than fans are used to seeing from Jarrett Allen or DeAndre Jordan. The skillset is there and it would be a shame to limit those abilities.

The Nets are six games below .500 but are still in the thick of the playoff hunt. Atkinson might be compelled to go with players he trusts, perhaps even tightening up the rotation with spring nearing. But that shouldn’t mean ex-communication from the rotation for Claxton.

Let him get more of a feel for the game played at this level. He might just be a significant contributor to a team with aspirations next season.

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