Nic Claxton is back at home, figuratively speaking.
He feels freer in Georgia head coach Tom Crean’s system, which emphasizes an up-tempo approach and freedom for all five positions on the court, allows him to play both underneath the basket and on the wing, in more of a guard’s role.
That’s Claxton’s new role this season: sometimes he plays down low, sometimes he plays outside the three-point line. In the past the 6-foot-11 sophomore described Crean’s offense as “position-less.” Not that it bothers him, of course.
It’s a much different role than the sophomore held in his first year at Georgia, when he primarily played as a post player underneath the basket. Now, it’s not uncommon for Claxton to inbound the ball to a traditional guard, then get it right back in the backcourt and dribble the ball up the floor.
“Just having the freedom, having the confidence in myself, my coaches having the confidence in me, I just love it,” Claxton said. “I’m a lot freer, just being myself on the court.”
It’s not a completely new role for Claxton, who said he played point guard in middle school. When he grew to around 6-foot-7, he began playing in the post, and he said during his junior year of high school, he started playing small forward – the “three” spot (one being point guard, five being center) in basketball terminology.
So luckily for Claxton, there’s very little learning curve. At least, that is, in terms of learning a new position. In fact, there’s even less of a learning period than he underwent a season ago, playing as a forward under former Bulldog coach Mark Fox.
“Last year, playing on the inside was really new to me,” Claxton said. “But I think last year helped me out, ‘cause now I can go inside, whether it’s defending, or holding my own on the inside.
“Me playing on the wing, honestly, is natural.”
Both Claxton and his coach already are seeing the benefits in the sophomore’s offensive play. Claxton is currently second on the team in scoring (12.5 points per game) only to Rayshaun Hammonds, and has started all eight games thus far, typically at power forward.
Claxton scored 15 last time out against predictably overmatched Texas Southern. But it’s his play on the defensive side of the court that’s caught Crean’s eye. And with good reason.
Crean, like he has all season, stressed the importance of rebounding -- Claxton averages nine per game and is listed as the tallest player on the team -- and deflections. Crean refers to the latter as “any time of activity on the ball,” including blocked shots, charges, steals and tipped passes. Basic defensive plays that Crean said his assistants keep track of during every game.
“So much happens if your vision, your feet and your hands are activ, then you’ve got a chance to create some havoc and to distort things for the defense,” Crean said.
Claxton had 18 of those against Sam Houston State and leads the Bulldogs with 76 on the season.
The next highest Bulldog, Hammonds, holds 29 as of Thursday.
“I’ve only coached four other guys, and all four have played in the NBA, that ever had 18 in a game,” Crean said after the Sam Houston State game. “Nic Claxton had 18 deflections in this game. It’s not just the deflections that he had, it’s the presence that he brought.”