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Nicolas Claxton (33) drives downcourt during a game against the University of Mississippi in Stegeman Coliseum on Feb. 9, 2019 in Athens, Georgia. The Bulldogs lost to the Rebels 64-80 in regular time. (Photo/Julian Alexander)

Former Georgia center Nicolas Claxton was selected 31st overall by the Brooklyn Nets in the 2019 NBA Draft. The selection capped off his improbable rise to the top of many teams’ draft boards.

The former Bulldog was drafted among the likes of Purdue University’s star Carsen Edwards and the University of Southern California’s Kevin Porter Jr.

Claxton declared for the draft after a sophomore season in which he appeared in 32 games averaging 13.0 points, 8.6 rebounds and 1.8 assists on 46.0% shooting.

His size, length and defensive versatility propelled him to the second round’s opening selection. Teams saw potential in Claxton as a versatile defender that can switch over screens to defend an opposing guard.

Claxton will likely fit seamlessly into the scheme of the Nets. Last season, Brooklyn had just two centers on the roster in Ed Davis and Jarrett Allen. Davis is not a natural center but was pressed into that position the past few years due to the lack of depth, while Allen is much more similar to Claxton.

Coming out of the University of Texas, scouts projected Allen to be a shot-blocker with an impressive motor. That defense has been a calling card in his young career with a highlight reel featuring emphatic rejections on the likes of LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

That defense and athleticism is similar to what Brooklyn hopes to get out of Claxton. After averaging 2.5 blocks per game in his sophomore season, Claxton put those skills on display at the NBA Draft Combine. In his combine scrimmage, Claxton had 5 blocks and made a number of great post moves on offense, while still sliding out to hit a three-pointer.

Claxton will almost certainly see the floor in his rookie year with Davis becoming an unrestricted free agent. That defense will be tested.

The biggest concern scouts had on the former Bulldog’s transition to professional basketball was his frame. The NBA Combine measurements listed him as 6 feet, 11.75 inches and 217 pounds. Claxton’s lean frame is going to present him with problems at the start of his career as many centers will outweigh him by about 20-30 pounds on average. For reference, his new teammate Allen is 6-foot-11 and 237 pounds.

However, players with similar frames have found success at the professional level. The best example is the aforementioned Antetokounmpo. The newly crowned MVP came into the league listed by the NBA at 6-foot-9, 215 pounds. After continuing to grow taller, he now checks in at 6-foot-11, 242 pounds.

Claxton is expected to be done growing vertically, but his weight could still change. The Nets have an excellent player development staff who will help him work on his body from day one.

For player development, Claxton may have landed in the ideal spot. Brooklyn has seen a trend of player development in recent years with D’Angelo Russell, Joe Harris and others. Russell was a first time NBA All-Star this past season and saw his averages soar to 21.1 points, 3.9 rebounds and 7.0 assists per game.

The numbers are impressive but fail to tell the whole story. Russell’s leadership took a massive step forward last season as did his team. Allen is looking more comfortable as part of head coach Kenny Atkinson’s scheme while continuing to mature. Joe Harris has developed into one of the league’s best shooters. 

These players are examples of how Claxton’s game can flourish under Brooklyn’s player development staff. The organization will work to modernize his game, by improving his shot, and  helping him maximize his strengths.

Brooklyn is heading into free agency with cap space and many prospects. The team has been linked to Boston Celtics guard Kyrie Irving and Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant.

The Nets will be relevant in the playoff picture next season and Claxton could play a role in that success. Whether or not the team signs Irving and Durant, the former Bulldog’s fit with the team is as close to perfect as it gets.

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