Allocating minutes at the power forward position for this team isn’t so simple. It’s a question that many fans of the Brooklyn Nets have been pondering this offseason. Could a rookie be the answer to our problems?
The consensus amongst Brooklyn Nets fans and NBA pundits is the Brooklyn Nets have a void at power forward. Many are vociferous that Taurean Prince is the answer. Some are still pining for the Nets to sign Carmelo Anthony despite the Athletics‘ recent news that the Nets are no longer interested in him.
While it may sound like a reach, I believe Nicolas Claxton—despite being a rookie and a self-proclaimed project—is the real solution for the perceived power forward dilemma for the Nets. He should get significant minutes at power forward.
Many will say he’s not ready, and he needs more experience in the G-league. They’ll say his 3-pt shot is not good enough yet. They’ll say he needs to bulk up. They’re not necessarily wrong. Those are all valid points of contention.
Hear me out.
G-league experience is not the same as NBA experience. Claxton may not have been a sharpshooter at the University of Georgia but his shot mechanics were deemed fundamentally sound by advanced scouts. They are workable.
He’s probably been working on tweaking his shot ever since the Nets drafted him, probably even before and even as I type this. As far as bulking up goes that could be counter-productive to developing long-range prowess.
Furthermore, the NBA is trending away from post play and banging down low has never been less important in NBA history unless you are guarding Joel Embiid which would never be Claxton’s responsibility anyway.
As far as I’m concerned, the Nets have no obligation to start Taurean Prince at power forward. It’s not his natural position and aside from shooting 39 percent from deep, he doesn’t do much else, especially defensively.
Kurucs’ future with the Nets is still questionable but even if it weren’t he simply doesn’t have the same tools or traits that Claxton possesses now. Kurucs is athletic and can move well without the ball but he is limited when it comes to shooting, passing, and a myriad of other important abilities.
Last season the Nets ranked 18th in opponents points per game. That team stat could be a bit misleading since Caris LeVert missed 42 games. Had he played in at least 75 games that ranking probably would have been a bit higher as he is the Nets best perimeter defender in the starting lineup?
This is where Claxton figures into the equation. He’s 6-foot-11¾ tall with a 7-foot-2½ wingspan. Let’s just call him a 7-footer for argument’s sake.
From a defensive standpoint, when you consider his physical attributes with his ability to defend the pick and roll, guard multiple positions, amazing footwork, ball mirroring, high IQ, rebounding and shot-blocking ability he is without question, in my mind, the best option at power forward for the Nets defensively.
The Nets defense going forward has been seldom talked about, lost amidst the hoopla surrounding the fanfare that comes with signing superstars, but the Nets team defense is one of my primary concerns for the team this season. Especially considering Atkinson’s deficiencies on that end of the court.
When you consider the Nets have great 3-PT shooting in Joe Harris, Kyrie Irving, and potentially LeVert, if Claxton can shoot even in the low 30’s percentage-wise from deep I say roll him out there because he is just so versatile. He might even surprise us from deep.
Offensively, he was a point guard in high school before hitting a late growth spurt. He has tremendous court vision. He sets great high screens and is adept at finding open players cutting to the rim or on the perimeter which would gel extremely well with Atkinson’s motion offense.
Claxton can handle the ball very well too. In the lineup with Irving and LeVert, they could give opposing defenses fits trying to cover them. Even in the second unit, Claxton would help out in this capacity.
He can rebound on both ends and start fast breaks which could spell Irving on some possessions (which he’ll need). This could get the Nets some easy points in transition as Claxton can ignite, and finish breaks on his own either scoring or passing.
Another wrinkle to his game is that he is a lefty who favors driving right. He can also finish with either hand. The Nets don’t have any other lefties in their starting lineup and utilizing Claxton from the right side high post in half-court sets could open up the floor in ways the Nets never could last season.
With his size he’s sure to nab some offensive rebounds as well, a team stat the Nets could use some help in. Claxton’s pet move is a reverse pivot into a turn around hook shot. He can create this shot off the dribble, and at his size, he won’t have trouble getting that shot off in the NBA.
The Nets need a creative paint scorer whether they know it or not and they are unlikely to get that from DeAndre Jordan or Jarrett Allen. However, they may be able to get that from Claxton which might even give them a semblance of an inside-out traditional offensive game.
Luckily, they can play Claxton alongside either of these big men which could lead to ridiculous rim protection as well as some easy offensive rebounds for either of their big men as paint misses lead to short bounces off the rim. This can subsequently create offensive rebounds and put-back chances for the other big men who excel in that area, especially Jordan.
Claxton at the 4 would also put an end to the notion that Allen is the Nets stretch 4 of the future. I simply don’t envision that happening even if Atkinson does.
I would even postulate Claxton could in time, sooner than rather than later, be a viable stretch 4 with crucial ancillary benefits to the team across the board.
Most importantly, Claxton is a smart and willing passer who would enhance the ball movement the Nets will need this season. He also understands spacing well and can re-locate himself into open spots which in turn creates even more spacing for the team.
I am well aware that Prince is in a contract year and has an incentive to play well. He is most likely going to be the starting power forward but I believe he should have to earn it in pre-season. If Claxton outplays him there, I say roll the dice on the rookie.
While this may seem shrewd, by not starting Prince (if he hasn’t earned the position), it could squash his value a bit heading into free agency next summer. With the Nets team salary currently set at roughly $127.4 million for 2020 that might help if they want to re-sign Prince for a cheaper contract.
Prince is seasoned and more polished than Claxton as a deep threat but beyond that, I am not sold on Prince all-around until he proves otherwise. On the other hand, Claxton is completely unproven but I see a hidden gem for the Nets at power forward in him.
The Nets appear to have everything in terms of star power, depth, versatility, and shooting, but what they are lacking is invigorating youth which Claxton could provide.
Fully knowing starting Claxton over Prince defies conventional wisdom as most will say Claxton is not ready, I would be willing to take that risk, especially if Prince struggles in pre-season. Sometimes gambles like this can pay off. It’s a low-risk high reward gamble in my humble opinion.
If Claxton doesn’t pan out, the Nets have fallback options. If he does pan out, the Nets could be unstoppable.
There is an old adage that says “Good things happen over time but great things happen overnight.” Perhaps this could be the case for Claxton at power forward for the Nets. Pre-season is a week away. Let the position battle at power forward commence.
Keep a close eye on Claxton.