Newest Nets get first taste of Brooklyn
Draftees Claxton, Hands eager to begin pro careers in summer league
While all of Brooklyn awaits the potential arrival of superstars like Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, a couple of other Nets made their first official foray into our fair borough without much ballyhoo Monday afternoon in Sunset Park.
The Nets’ two second-round picks from last Thursday night’s NBA Draft at Downtown’s Barclays Center, Nicolas Claxton out of the University of Georgia and Jaylen Hands from UCLA, met with the local media at Industry City’s HSS Training Center.
Claxton, a 6-foot-11 power forward/center whom Nets general manager Sean Marks selected with the 31st overall pick, had worked out here in Brooklyn prior to draft night.
But Monday marked the first time he entered the team’s state-of-the-art practice facility as an official member of the organization.
“It was one of the workouts that really stuck out for me, the staff and even all the way down to the personnel here. It was different. It was a different feel,” noted Claxton, who averaged team highs of 13.0 points and 8.6 boards per game with the Bulldogs during his sophomore season.
“Like I always say, I feel like God, he has a way of just making everything right so when I heard my name called the 31st pick, I was blessed and I was happy right away and I’m really emotional so you were able to just see it in my face,” he added. “I was just happy, man. I’m still happy and I’m ready to get to work.”
Getting to work will mean participating in the Nets’ Summer League program in Las Vegas, beginning July 5.
Claxton will be joined by Hands (56th overall), a speedy point guard who led the Pac-12 with 6.1 assists per game as a second-year starter last season at UCLA, during the brief but intense exhibition tournament in Sin City.
The two 20-year-olds, who were greatly overshadowed in the run-up and aftermath of the draft due to the ongoing rumors of a potential free-agent pairing of Durant and Irving here in Brooklyn, are eager to show off their wares against fellow first- and second-year players next week.
“Being able to play in Summer League is definitely going to be a dope experience,” said Claxton. “I’ve been watching the Summer League since I was yay high. It’ll be fun to go out there, compete and play in Summer League, just being in Vegas and get acclimated with everything and start to put my work in. It’ll be fun.”
“I’m really excited to get out there,” added Hands. “I’m more excited to be out here in Brooklyn for the next couple of weeks and get to know everyone and just get to work. It’s a dream come true, so I’m really excited.”
Marks, who continues to be bombarded by queries regarding his upcoming moves in free agency, isn’t tipping his hand as to whether he’ll uproot the foundation he and head coach Kenny Atkinson have built here over the past three seasons.
Nor is he willing to “pigeon-hole” either of his two new arrivals without seeing how they perform in a professional atmosphere next week in Vegas.
“I never want to limit any of the guys we have in here,” insisted Marks when asked if one or both rookies would likely wind up in the developmental G-League this coming season.
“Through our scouting them, seeing them live, watching them on tape, getting to meet them, interview both these guys, these young gentlemen, I think they fit with what we’re trying to do here, what we’re trying to build here. I think again the opportunity will be here for them to succeed.”
Marks also pointed out how last year’s second-round pick, Rodions Kurucs, proved to be a valuable contributor to Brooklyn’s drive toward its first winning season in five years and first playoff berth in four campaigns.
“I’d hate to pigeonhole one of these guys into, ‘Hey, this is gonna be his path.’” Marks said.
“I think we’ve run into some problems with that in the past, if we’ve said, ‘He’s going to play in the G League,’ or he’s going to do this or he’s going to do that, when all of a sudden we get a guy like for instance take Rodi last year, he rose to the occasion.”
Claxton and Hands aren’t likely to be the newest Nets for long.
As per the latest update/rumor, the Nets appear to be front-runners to land the dynamic tandem of Durant and Irving.
And Marks is also reportedly looking to bring in former All-NBA center DeAndre Jordan from the East River rival Knicks once free agency officially kicks off on July 1.
Jordan, who is a friend and confidant of Durant’s, would likely help beef up Brooklyn’s interior defense and rebounding, both of which appeared vulnerable during the Nets’ first-round ousting at the hands of Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers in the playoffs earlier this year.
No matter who winds up suiting up for Brooklyn come the 2019-20 campaign, Claxton and Hands hope to at least be on the NBA roster, contributing with their skills on the court and their vocal cords off it.
“One thing that really stuck out to me, just being a basketball fan, is watching their bench and how excited the players on the bench get for the guys that are out on the court,” said Claxton.
“That’s more like a college feeling when it comes to that. That’s really cool because my freshman year in college I was one of those guys on the bench just getting excited for the players out on the court. That’s really good to have, especially in an NBA organization because you really don’t see it that much.”
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