Nicolas Claxton is a potential developmental piece for the Indiana Pacers

ATHENS, GEORGIA - FEBRUARY 09: Nicolas Claxton #33 of the Georgia Bulldogs waits for the ball to be played against the Mississippi Rebels at Stegeman Coliseum on February 09, 2019 in Athens, Georgia. (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images)
ATHENS, GEORGIA - FEBRUARY 09: Nicolas Claxton #33 of the Georgia Bulldogs waits for the ball to be played against the Mississippi Rebels at Stegeman Coliseum on February 09, 2019 in Athens, Georgia. (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images) /

The Indiana Pacers had Georgia’s Nicolas Claxton in for a pre-draft workout last week. The big man is on Indiana’s radar, but should they draft him?

The deadline to withdraw from the NBA Draft has passed and Nicolas Claxton decided to stay in. The 6’11” forward averaged 13.0 points and 8.6 rebounds as a sophomore at Georgia. His name crept into the first-round conversation as the draft nears. Claxton offers a ton of upside at the end of the first round or at the top of the second. However, the Pacers have other needs to fill.

The Indiana Pacers have spent multiple draft picks on developmental big men in recent years. Ike Anigbogu and Alize Johnson were both selected in the second round of their respective drafts. While Anigbogu is no longer on the roster, a contingent of Pacers fans want to see more of Alize Johnson as we move forward into the 2019-20 season.

Nicolas Claxton would be another long-term project in the frontcourt for the Pacers. Not to mention Indiana already has a strong frontcourt in place with Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis. Alize Johnson and TJ Leaf are both young options off the bench as well. If Thaddeus Young returns, Indiana would have five quality frontcourt players with questions at point guard and on the wing.

Depth is always welcomed, but the Pacers need to answer other questions first. If they do decide they like Nicolas Claxton, what are they getting?

The good: Claxton has a ton of upside

The Georgia product measured in at 6’11.75” (in shoes) at the NBA Combine. His wingspan came in at a mighty 7’2.5” which is a good sign for a rim protector. He uses his length well on the defensive end of the floor.

At Georgia, Claxton was an excellent shot blocker and rim protector. His sophomore season saw him average 2.5 blocks per game for the Bulldogs. At the NBA Combine, Claxton tallied 11 blocked shots. The long arms allowed Claxton to grab rebounds as well. He finished his season with 8.6 boards per game.

The rebounds and blocks were also aided by Claxton’s great athleticism. He moves very well for a center and has enough bounce to play aggressively above the rim. Claxton is a surprisingly good ball-handler when attacking the basket.

He uses nice moves around the rim to set up better shots for himself. His transition athleticism is excellent for a player of his size. Pairing him with Turner or Sabonis would make Indiana’s frontcourt incredibly fluid and transition opportunities could take a huge leap.

What stands out to me is Claxton’s ability to pass. He flashed great passing skills at times in college. Whether from the perimeter or in the post, Claxton finds his open teammates. I like his ability to bounce the ball into the low post with a soft touch or kick out to the perimeter after backing towards the basket.

Big men who pass are extremely beneficial to the offense. Rather than being doubled in the post, defenses have to account for all five offensive players.

The bad: He does not maximize his talents

Claxton has all the potential in the world to be a rim-protecting center in the NBA. However, he plays softly at times defensively. He left a lot of shots uncontested or half-heartedly attempted to block them.

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As he moves forward, Claxton will need to be more aggressive as to not allow easy buckets. It’s not easy for a guy to block 2.5 shots per game and still seem like he wasn’t doing enough, but that’s where I am with Claxton at the moment.

His frame will be a big concern at the next level. Claxton weighed in at just 217 pounds, giving him a weak frame. That will make it difficult for Claxton to box out opponents on shots and finish strong at the rim.

Defensively, he will have his struggles holding his own in the post and may be left relying on his length to contest shots, rather than playing tight defense for the same purpose. I’d like to see him pack on extra muscle to bring out the best in his game. If not, he will have a tough time staying on the court due to foul trouble or lack of rebounding help he provides.

Claxton does not offer much on the offensive end yet, but he has potential there. He definitely struggled to finish at the rim for Georgia. If he couldn’t slam it down, Claxton threw up prayers near the basket.

For that reason, he finished his career as a 46 percent shooter from the field. For a guy who gets most of his looks in the paint, that is a startling number. He is a liability when shooting in traffic or off balance. Passing is important, don’t get me wrong, but Claxton must develop a scoring arsenal at some point.

We have seen examples of what Claxton can be on offense. If he adds muscle, he can be a force down low. He can go up strong and finish with a dunk. His length will allow him to get tough shots off over his defender. Better touch could go a long way for Nicolas Claxton.

Final verdict

I really like the potential of Nicolas Claxton at the next level. He can be an incredible player on both ends of the floor with a little bit of work. I just think he is out of range for the Indiana Pacers. 18 is far too rich for a developmental piece, but he will be gone by pick 50. If they want to trade back in the first and take him in the late 20s, then I would back the move a little more.

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I would be surprised to see Claxton in a Pacers uniform next season. Regardless, I do believe he will be a contributor for an NBA team down the road.