‘I should be No. 1’

After being groomed his first three seasons to become the future starting center of the Nets, Nic Claxton has helped transform Brooklyn’s defense and made a case for himself in the Defensive Player of the Year conversation.

Amid a breakout campaign as Brooklyn’s starting center, Claxton leads the NBA in field goal percentage (.732) and block percentage (8.2) while ranking second in defensive rating (106.7) per Basketball-Reference.

Before facing the Thunder on Sunday, Claxton discussed why he believes he’s the Defensive Player of the Year. Claxton also explained why he can become a future All-Star, how playing with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving has changed his role, what he thinks of his future with the Nets, and more in an interview with HoopsHype.

What do you think your ceiling could be in the league?

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Nick Claxton: I don’t like to put a ceiling on myself, but I feel like I’m barely scratching the surface right now. I think I can be one of the best two-way players in the league in the right time and system. I’ll continue to work on my game, which I’ll continue to do in the summer and continue to grow.

What do you think of the possibility for yourself of becoming an All-Star?

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NC: That would be a dream come true. If I’m honest, coming into the season, I wasn’t thinking I’d be an All-Star, but now that I see it’s achievable, I’ve got to shoot for that and do everything in my power to put myself in a position to be in the All-Star Game. Down the road, that’s definitely a goal to be a consistent All-Star in the league.

When you look at the Defensive Player of the Year conversation, where do you think you fit in?

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NC: I think I should be No. 1. I’m defending one through five and neck and neck as the leading shot blocker. I’m doing everything on the defensive end for the team anchoring the defense every single night. I think I should be right there. Definitely.

What do you make of people saying the Nets need a bruising presence at center on the roster?

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NC: It’s 2023. The game is changing and evolving. I’ll go out there against any center in the league and make it tough for anybody on the court. It doesn’t matter who it is. I take on that challenge every single night, especially if it’s an opposing big that may have size on me.

Where’s the team defensively towards trying to become a championship team?

NC: I think we’ve been doing a lot better, for sure. The numbers speak for themselves. I think the rebounding piece is going to be big for us, and that’s big for myself too. It can be tough sometimes when you’re switching out and guarding, but I think the defensive rebounding part will be big for us.

Aside from starting, what else in your game have you been able to improve in your development?

NC: I’d say my overall confidence. I think experience is the best teacher. Being out there and knowing that the starting spot is mine and not worrying about making mistakes. I’m playing without fouling and really being a menace on the defensive side of the ball. I’ve been watching movies, and I’ve been able to take some big strides out there.

You’ve changed your freethrow routine. How’d you go about that?

NC: It’s coming along. It’s definitely a work in progress. I’m working on having the same technique every time, so if I miss, I know where I made the mistake and be more focused when I go up there. I’ve got to continue to get my reps in every single day. That’s a big part of my game I need to continue to improve.

What’s it like playing with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, and how has it changed the game for you?

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NC: I definitely don’t take it for granted being able to play with two of the best scorers to ever play basketball. I’ve had to find my niche within playing with those guys. I can’t just go out there dribbling the ball up the court and taking threes. I’ve had to find a role and star in that. As you see, it’s been finishing around the rim and setting picks, and taking advantage of opportunities when I can drive. Defensively, guarding.

When you look at this team collectively, how would you summarize this entire season?

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NC: I think it’s definitely been a rollercoaster season. That’s how it’s been every year that I’ve been here. We started out with not having Kyrie for a few games and now having injuries with KD missing time. It’s something we have to adjust to, and it’s a part of our jobs. Whoever’s out on the court, we have to saddle up and get wins.

Have you ever thought about your long-term future after signing a short-term deal and betting on yourself?

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NC: I just try to stay present each day and come in and continue to get better. My game is going to speak for itself. I think the biggest thing for me is maintaining my health and continuing to stay on the court. When I’m on the court, I’m productive. Everything else will work itself out wherever it may be. Let the chips fall where they may.

You can follow Michael Scotto (@MikeAScotto) on Twitter.

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Story originally appeared on HoopsHype

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