Height/Weight: 6’11.75/ 215 lbs.
When you look at Nicolas Claxton, you are looking at one of the most unique players in this class. There simply aren’t many guys with the combination of skills that he has for his size. We saw a noticeable transformation in the 2018-2019 season as he played a very integral part in Tom Crean’s system. The 6’11” sophomore was named Second Team All-SEC and was one of the hottest names at the NBA Combine. He turned heads after an impressive 7-7-7 (points, rebounds, blocks) stat line in his first combine scrimmage.
Tom Crean was very creative in the way he used Claxton. The term Point Forward gets thrown around from time to time and Claxton certainly has some Point Forward elements to his game.
There were many instances where he displayed his speed and ball handling ability in the transition game. He was used in the back-court, around the rim, and at the free throw line. This flexibility along with some other skills and traits, which I’ll mention here soon, makes Claxton fit into the new wave of position-less basketball quite nicely.
The first thing that stands out about Claxton’s game his ability to guard the perimeter. In the modern NBA we see plenty of big men who get switched on to guards only to be left out to dry by quick dribble moves. Claxton has quick feet that makes him capable of keeping an attacking guard in front of him. If he does get beat, he can use his long length combined with his quickness to recover to alter shots. Watch here as Claxton gets matched up against Kerwin Roach and eventually pokes the ball away for a quick turnover.
In the NBA, rim protection is a coveted asset to keep players from attacking the lane. Layups and dunks are considered the easiest shots in the game so finding players who can block and alter shots are of high importance. Claxton projects to have this ability and showed it at the combine. He measured in with a 7’2” wingspan and had a 36 inch vertical jump which was the highest of all potential centers according to NBA.com. He averaged 2.5 blocks per game and a total of 81 this season which is right around the ranks of Tacko Fall and Neemias Queta. Claxton shows the ability to recover on defense quite nicely and uses that length to come provide help side defense when needed.
The last major strength that I feel can translate for him at the next level is that he can be a quality transition big. Claxton is an athletic player whose mix of speed and ball handling allows him to get out and run the break if not lead it himself. Claxton also has solid vision as a passer that makes him very fun to watch in both the half-court and transition settings on offense.
Watching Claxton on film or even by a picture, it is easy to tell that he is a thin prospect and will need to bulk up to be more fit to play in the NBA. He currently weighs 215 pounds and is pushed around by bigger post players and sometimes ones that aren’t bigger. If he can gain another 15 pounds of muscle in his first few years in the league, he could fix this issue. His post-game wasn’t great at the college level and that wasn’t always against NBA bodies and I can only wonder how he would fare in a battle in the paint with the likes of Steven Adams or Karl Anthony-Towns.
When looking at Claxton’s offensive game it is hard to see what exactly his roll will be at the next level. He is a raw offensive player who at times seems like he is still trying to figure the game out. The one thing he could work on that could be effective soon would be his ability to drive past other bigs using his length, ball handling, and quick first step. However, his thin frame can cause him to be pushed off balance ending his drive well before the rim.
The other way I could see Claxton projecting is as a stretch big. Claxton shot the three pretty well at the combine and even shot 34% his freshman year which is pretty impressive, but this past year he shot a poor 28% on over double the attempts per game. Normally evaluators like to look at FT% to see if there is room for improvement on a players three ball, but Claxton shot just 64% from the line. However, the NBA has coaches and shot doctors in place who can help with this and it wouldn’t shock me if he got better touch in the next couple years as he does have solid form on his jumper.
Overall, Claxton is an intriguing prospect who has a unique combination of skills that will be fun to watch at the next level. He is a good switch defender who also has rim protecting capabilities but is raw on offense. His performance in the combine has him shooting up draft boards. It wouldn’t be a surprise to me if a contender took a swing on him as early as the mid-20s. He recently stated he was staying in the 2019 NBA Draft and will forgo his career at Georgia.