Before the 2019 NBA Draft arrives, Peachtree Hoops will break down more than 70 available prospects with an eye toward what the Atlanta Hawks may look to do in late June.
This installment takes a glance at Georgia big man Nic Claxton.
When Georgia Bulldogs big man Nic Claxton declared for the 2019 NBA Draft in mid-April, reaction was mixed. The talented sophomore enjoyed a breakout season in 2018-19, garnering second team All-SEC honors, and it made sense, through that optimistic lens, to attempt to capitalize on that buzz. In contrast, skeptics immediately shined a light on Claxton’s raw nature as a professional prospect, with many projecting him as a likely second-round draft pick. That, of course, would place Claxton firmly in the evaluation cross-hairs for the Atlanta Hawks as a team with three second-round selections but, in the midst of the pre-draft process, the 20-year-old seems to be rising on draft boards with haste.
At the NBA Draft Combine, Claxton measured in impressive fashion, standing 6’11.75 with a 7’2.5 wingspan. It would be more than fair to mention that he weighed in at only 217 pounds, lending credence to questions about his wiry frame, but Claxton posted above-average agility times for a projected NBA big man, to go along with a 36.5-inch vertical leap.
On tape, Claxton jumps off the page as a fluid athlete and that manifests in a significant way on the defensive end of the floor. From a box score perspective, Claxton led the SEC in blocked shots (2.5 per game) but, beyond that, he regularly served as a deterrent to the opposition at or near the rim.
Perhaps Claxton’s most intriguing skill, however, is his ability to stay with guards on the perimeter. He puts his quick-twitch athleticism and fluidity to good use in that area, presenting a profile as a highly “switchable” big man at the NBA level. That, in combination with his ability to protect the rim and rebound at an above-average level, paints the picture of a potential weapon on the defensive end in a variety of schemes.
On the other end, Claxton’s profile is less encouraging, though not void of interest. He isn’t an impressive scoring threat at the moment and Claxton also struggles, at least when compared to other draft-eligible bigs, as a screen-setter. However, he was (bizarrely) asked to initiate offense as a ball-handler during his time in Athens and, while not always effective in that role, the experience did manage to showcase Claxton’s skill level with the ball in his hands.
All told, Claxton is an above-average ball-handler for his size and, in time, could develop into something of a secondary playmaker as a result. For now, however, he certainly projects to be a supporting offensive piece and his shooting could present a swing skill of sorts.
Claxton was given license to fire away from three-point range in college, with mixed results. The sample size was relatively small from three-point distance (86 career attempts), but Claxton converted at only 30.2 percent and, in addition to those struggles, he posted a career 53 percent true shooting mark despite his clear athletic advantages.
The full picture of that is one of confusion from a scouting perspective, with some seeing Claxton as a potentially intriguing upside play and others viewing him as a relatively uninspiring offensive prospect. Virtually everyone agrees, though, that Claxton’s defensive potential is tantalizing and that, in concert with his combine measurements, paints a picture of a potential first-round pick.
If Claxton’s stock does rise to that level as many expect, the Hawks would have trouble acquiring him. It should be noted that Atlanta could package picks in an effort to move up from No. 35 if they were to fall in love with Claxton’s skill set but, in the same breath, it seems to be likely at this point that Claxton will not fall into their lap if the team stays put in their current draft slots.
Without diving too deeply into potential fits, Claxton would potentially serve as an inspired defensive fit in Atlanta. His combination of length, agility and fluidity is something the Hawks could utilize at a high level and, with Atlanta’s offensive talent, his weaknesses on that end of the floor might be mitigated by staying close to his college home.
The process will play out between now and June 20 but, in totality, Claxton is a prospect with a package of skills that is (very) friendly to the modern NBA game. That makes him someone to closely monitor in the coming weeks.