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Nick Claxton has emerged as the third most important player for the Brooklyn Nets. That’s no small feat for Ben Simmons, who remains an important presence as a perimeter stopper and open-floor playmaker. But with Kevin Durant sidelined with a sprained MCL, Claxton helped Kyrie Irving get scoring breaks and continued to anchor the defense.

Claxton had the best game of his career on Sunday, helping lead back to a road win against the Warriors with career highs of 24 points and 15 rebounds, plus three blocks. This is Claxton’s 12th straight game with at least three shots, one of the longest streaks in NBA history.

The blocks have only been tracked since 1973-74, and only 10 other players have had a streak of three or more blocks in a game that long, according to Stathead. Claxton is preceded by six Hall of Famers (Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo) and four players named to at least one All-Defensive Team (Mark Eaton, Theo Ratliff). Manute Ball and Hassan Whiteside).

Claxton could earn his first All-Defensive selection this year as he has become one of the league’s best shot blockers (only Jaren Jackson Jr. has more blocks per game) while still being one of the top switchers at his position.

The Nets run the pick-and-roll more than any other team, making Claxton an integral part of their scheme and often leading him to defend on the island. Claxton has more shutouts (183) than any other player in the NBA this season. Second Spectrum tracking data says that when opponents try to score against him, they shoot just 38.3 percent.

In the second half against the Warriors on Sunday, Claxton held up Jordan Poole on a switch in the corner, forcing Poole to restart the offense before Claxton blocked his shot minutes later anyway. And he blocked Steph Curry’s mid-rise after a late pass defended pick-and-roll. It was just the fourth time this season that Curry has blocked a jump shot.

Claxton’s ability to stifle perimeter scorers is nothing new for the Nets. He has been vulnerable for a few years, but with a stronger squad, more seasoning and better training, he has stepped up this season.

The biggest change for Claxton of late has been his increased scoring. He averaged 19.2 points on 11 shots per game over the last five games while Durant is out and the team needs more offensive production.

Basically, he’s scoring like he usually does, just at a higher volume. Claxton is shooting a league-best 73.3 percent from the field. He scores buckets by running up the floor on the break, feeding off Irving in the pick-and-roll and cleaning up everything around the basket with cuts and layups.

Claxton also starts to get the green light to drive the basket.

Claxton was a primary playmaker in college at Georgia, so he has the ability to handle the ball. Irving and KD will obviously carry the load when healthy, but the fact that he’s regaining this layer of his game shows that he can attack when needed, giving defenders another threat to think about on a team that which is already so difficult. contains.

Simmons was supposed to be the player absorbing that scoring responsibility, but his habits haven’t changed much. He’s still timid putting the ball around the rim. Even after setting a screen, he’s reluctant to dive to the basket. He’s shooting a career-worst 43.4 percent from the line, so he has every right to fear they’ll struggle. But at least he doesn’t let his inferior offensive impact negatively affect his defense. He looked more like himself as a positionless stopper who helped fuel Brooklyn’s growth on the other end.

The Nets are 27-12 since Jacques Vaughn took over as head coach in early November. After a slow start under Steve Nash, the Nets are now playing with spirit. Claxton, Durant and Simmons anchored their switch-heavy scheme on defense. On offense, the ball rolls on the floor, except when it’s time for KD or Kyrie to isolate deep in the fourth quarter. Brooklyn has undeniable championship ingredients with his star power and ability to play a variety of schemes.

But Brooklyn isn’t happy heading into the trade deadline. League sources say the Nets are one of the teams more actively looking for an upgrade before the season.

Joe Harris ($18.6 million), Seth Curry ($8.5 million) and Patty Mills ($6.5 million) could be involved in a trade because of their short-term salaries and the fact that they have been in lesser roles recently playing: But the Nets don’t have a ton of assets to include in any potential trade. Outside of these three movers, they only have unproven talent like DayRon Sharp and Cam Thomas, their own 2028 and 2029 first-round picks, and a future first out of Philadelphia in 2027 or 2028. It is unrealistic that they will cough. very valuable for a backup, but they need to feel the urgency to maximize their title chances, whether that’s by adding a more suitable wing (like Kyle Kuzma, Bojan Bogdanovic or Alec Burks), or whatever they really need most; .

The Nets should pursue someone who maintains Claxton’s size but offers better shooting ability. He’s not hitting 3s and making just 46.3 percent of his free throws, something the Warriors tried to expose Sunday by breaking him late in the game. Hack-a-Clax will inevitably happen in the playoffs (and Simmons, who shoots with the wrong hand, is also a likely target). The problem is, there just aren’t many good big ones.

Spurs center Jakob Poeltl is perhaps the most affordable name on the market, but he also struggles from the line. Maybe John Collins? The Nets probably don’t have what the Falcons would want in return. Same goes for the Pacers and Myles Turner.

But the next tier of potentially available big men offers some hope. How about Naz Reid, Mo Bamba, Jared Vanderbilt or Kelly Olynyk? Vanderbilt’s youth and contract status give him more value than the other three names, but they are all more affordable options and could be in the Nets’ circle.

With Irving’s explosive scoring and Claxton’s two-way dominance behind multiple wins, there’s plenty of reason to believe the Nets can clinch a guaranteed playoff spot. But the Nets are just 2-4 since Durant went down, and he’ll be out until at least February. Durant was in the NBA MVP race before his absence, Irving is a definite All-Star, and Claxton has been one of the league’s most indispensable players. These Nets are a team to be reckoned with, especially if they deepen their bench.


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