Nets’ Nic Claxton providing big, promising minutes

Brooklyn Nets' Nicolas Claxton. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

The New Year hasn’t provided too many marquee moments for the Brooklyn Nets.

Since Jan. 1, Brooklyn is 2-8 in 10 games with the abbreviated return of Kyrie Irving failing to administer the spark that many expected when the six-time All-Star was re-introduced to the lineup after missing 26 games with a shoulder injury.

Irving still isn’t at 100-percent as he missed Monday night’s loss to the Philadelphia 76ers with hamstring tightness. He’s considered day-to-day, but it’s understandable if Nets fans are holding their collective breath.

Brooklyn’s 117-111 loss was their fourth straight as they had no answers for Sixers star point guard Ben Simmons. The enigmatic point guard put up a monster triple-double, posting 34 points, 12 rebounds, and 12 assists along with five steals.

He’s the first player in NBA history to post a 30-point triple-double with at least five swipes.

Without Irving, the Nets offense struggled — in particular, Spencer Dinwiddie. The guard who was putting up All-Star-like numbers during Irving’s absence put up approximately nine fewer points per game upon his return.

Monday afternoon saw him shoot an uninspirational 6-of-17 from the floor for 22 points.

Joe Harris and Caris LeVert couldn’t provide much more, combining for just 28 points in 61 total minutes.

But the Nets did get a second-straight strong outing from rookie power forward Nic Claxton, who is providing a glimpse of a promising frontcourt duo alongside third-year center Jarrett Allen.

In 17 minutes against the Sixers, Claxton posted 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting with four rebounds (all offensive) and two assists. His Game Score, which measures a player efficiency, was a career-high 14.8.

“It felt good. It’s a good confidence booster,” Claxton said after Monday’s loss. “Just knowing I can go out there and produce for my team. My name was called and I produced.”

It was an impressive follow-up from his performance against the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday night with 14 points on 7-of-12 shooting, three blocks, and six rebounds in 19 minutes.

Not a bad showing for a player who hadn’t played in 21 of the previous 22 games.

At 6-foot-11, the Georgia product has displayed plus athleticism on the floor, situational awareness that puts him in promising positions near the basket, and an ability to shoot from range.

The opponents in which he made an impact against didn’t go unnoticed by Claxton, either. The Sixers and Bucks are two of the top teams in the Eastern Conference and have legitimate title aspirations this season.

“It’s big, especially Philly, they’re a solid team,” he said. “Milwaukee is a solid team. So me going out there and producing, I think it’s just showing everybody — and me showing myself — that I can play at the highest level.”

While the sample size might be small, his efforts are not going unnoticed by Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson.

“I won’t say how good I think he’s going to be, but he’s got big-time talent, big-time hunger, wants to be great,” he said (h/t Newsday). “He’s got something else in there. His athleticism, he can hang with a team like that. He’s definitely got to get stronger, but he can shoot the three. That bodes well for us.”

Joe Pantorno