Who are the Brooklyn Nets’ players that should be off limits in trade discussions this coming offseason?
In a word: nobody.
“The Brooklyn Nets have a decent amount of talent,” concedes Zach Buckley of Bleacher Report in an article identifying NBA untouchables, “but only two players drew serious consideration for this discussion: Mikal Bridges and Nic Claxton.”
Bridges has been a revelation since coming over from the Phoenix Suns in the Kevin Durant trade. Since the trade deadline, he is 15th in scoring entering play on March 28 averaging 26.8 points on 63.5% true shooting with 4.6 rebounds and 2.6 assists while also knocking down 41.2% of his threes.
“He really cares about winning, which is a great attribute,” head coach Jacque Vaughn said in a video from Alex Koffler of Rotoballer on March 26. And so he’s trying to do whatever it takes on both ends of the floor to help us win. …We’ve put a lot on his plate. And I look forward to seeing him grow as a player.”
Claxton has been through it all with Vaughn as a former second-round pick in 2019. Vaughn was already in his fourth season as an assistant with the Nets by then.
“I give him credit, he’s done the work,” Vaughn said via SportsNet New York in January. “Whether that is on an optional day – when you have the option to shoot, to workout, to not workout – majority of the time Nic Claxton is either working on finishing, working on his free throws, working on his body. So he’s using those optional days to put in the work. And I think you always get rewarded for your work.”
Claxton is second in the NBA in blocks and field goal percentage but therein lies the issue.
Why Mikal Bridges and Nic Claxton Aren’t Untouchable
“While Bridges has been on a tear with this team…the production hasn’t led to much winning,” Buckley continues. “While one can’t assume he’s merely a good-numbers-on-bad-team performer, there also isn’t evidence suggesting he can be the focal point for a contender. Even if he is the former, there aren’t reasons to believe the Nets can contend with him any time soon. If someone wanted to pay a fortune to acquire him, Brooklyn might be better off refilling its asset collection.”
To Buckley’s point, Brooklyn has dropped six of its last seven games and has a hold on the six-seed in the Eastern Conference for now thanks to work done before the trade deadline.
They are just 8-12 since but it hasn’t been because of Bridges.
The Nets boast a plus-0.8 net rating with him on the floor, ranking in the 57th percentile, per Cleaning The Glass. It’s not earth-shattering stuff. But they have a minus-0.3 net rating (49th percentile) without him, Durant, Kyrie Irving, or even Ben Simmons – who has not played since the trade deadline and has been officially shut down for the season – on the floor.
“As for Claxton, he’s an elite defender (96th percentile in defensive estimated plus/minus), but he doesn’t have quite enough offense to be off-limits. He hasn’t been the same on that end since the Nets lost the gravitational forces known as Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Claxton averaged 13.2 points per game on 73.2 percent shooting before the deadline and is down to 10.8 and 61.2 since.”
Claxton has experienced a tale of two seasons.
He averaged 13.0 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.6 blocks, and 1.6 assists while shooting 73.9% from the floor with Durant and Irving on the roster. The 24-year-old is averaging 11.5 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 2.3 blocks, and 1.0 steals without them.
Clearly, he isn’t doing less – if anything he is doing more.
Claxton has just had to go about things differently without the gravitational force of Durant and/or Irving to draw the defense’s attention.
Nets Heading for a Crossroads
The Nets’ future is still very unclear. It’s not as simple as holding onto Bridges with decisions elsewhere on the roster likely doing a large part of shaping the vision for general manager Sean Marks who, like Vaughn, is locked in long-term. It would be nice to think that this team is trending up, and perhaps they could be with an entire offseason together under their belts.
They will not get that luxury.
A team could make things interesting by signing Cameron Johnson to an offer sheet this summer just as one could offer up the farm to Bridges. The Nets are not in a position to be overly-committed in either direction which figures to make for an interesting offseason.