25-under-25: Nic Claxton has made himself a modern NBA center

Nic Claxton is ranked No. 16 on our list of the best young players in the NBA. From the G League to becoming an integral part of the team's success, he has been with the Brooklyn Nets through it all.

Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Nic Claxton ranked No. 16 on The Step Back's 2023-24 25-under-25, ranking the best young players in the NBA. Check out the rest of the list here.

If you've watched Brooklyn Nets basketball, you've probably noticed Nic Claxton.

Surprisingly enough, Claxton was only a three-star recruit coming out of high school. He spent his college days playing for the University of Georgia Bulldogs and impressed many with his unique combination of size and skill. It wasn't long before Nic Claxton was selected No. 31 overall in the 2019 NBA Draft by the Brooklyn Nets. 

But, who is Nic Claxton? And where does he rank among other NBA centers?

Claxton has been with the Nets through it all. He witnessed the Steve Nash era. He saw the disintegration of the Harden, Irving, and Durant trio. Heck, he's even seen Spencer Dinwiddie leave and return. For a period in 2021, Claxton was even assigned to the Long Island Nets, and played his fair share of games in the G League.

The point is that Claxton has been through his fair share of change, which makes his rise to NBA stardom all the more satisfying. Now, with Simmons healthy, Cam Johnson and Mikal Bridges both returning and Jacque Vaughn stepping into his own as a head coach, Claxton has finally found his home. 

Nic Claxton does (almost) everything a modern center should do

Nic Claxton is everything a modern center should be. He's fresh off a career-high year in nearly every statistical category. Now, the 24-year-old center enters the final year of his contract, looking to get paid with a capital "P".

Last season, Claxton averaged 12.6 points per game, 9.2 rebounds per game, 1.9 assists, and 2.5 blocks per game. As stated previously, all career highs. In fact, last season Claxton led the league in field goal percentage, shooting 70.5 percent from the field.

Claxton's 6-foot-11 frame paired with his 7-foot-3 wingspan does him as many favors offensively as it does defensively. Besides his field goal percentage, Claxton had the second-highest true shooting percentage in the league last season at 69.1. He finished second only to former NBA MVP, Nikola Jokic, whose 70.1 is not to be taken lightly. Numbers don't lie. For a 24-year-old, this efficiency is insanely impressive.

This past January, Claxton was the first player to average at least 20 points and 10 rebounds per game with 80 percent shooting from the field over a seven-game span since Wilt Chamberlain in 1967. Clearly, Claxton has no problem producing on the offensive end, despite not being able to shoot very well from the outside.

Defensively, Claxton is an enigma. According to The Ringer's Michael Pina, "Outside of Bam Adebayo in 2021-22, no player in Second Spectrum’s entire database has ever averaged more switches per game."

Nic Claxton is the reason Brooklyn can get away with switching everything. His slender frame allows him to climb the ladder and protect the rim in an instant. In other words, Claxton is a shot-blocking machine. Plus, Claxton is quick enough to keep up with guards and can use his length to contest and bother shooters.  Last season, Claxton finished second in overall blocks and blocks per game. Despite tying for ninth in DPOY voting, many fans argued Claxton should take the crown.

Claxton's only weakness defensively is his vulnerability to stronger players. He's not a bang-in-the-post-big. However, he does hold his own and thankfully, Claxton can always get stronger. It certainly helps that the Nets' constant switching scheme allows Claxton to play to his strengths becasue, overall, Claxton's ability to defend the perimeter as a big man is absurd. Perhaps the Nets knew they had something special in Claxton defensively. After all, they traded away De'Andre Jordan and Jarret Allen just to carve out minutes for the budding star. 

Four years ago, Spencer Dinwiddie said that Nic Claxton was the second most talented Net on the roster behind Kevin Durant. At the time, this seemed crazy. This was a team that featured Kyrie Irving, DeAndre Jordan, and Taurean Prince. Now, after some trials and tribulation, Claxton has become stronger, smarter, and improved in nearly every category. He looks to be the heart and soul of this Nets squad going forward.

Turns out Dinwiddie was right all along; Claxton's potential is now on full display and he looks destined to be a future star in the NBA. He's already shown glimpses of greatness and the sky is the limit for what he can bring to the table.

25-under-25. 25-under-25 FINAL. See who else made our list of the best young players in the NBA. dark