After two years of top level college basketball competition, Nicolas Claxton of the U.S. Virgin Islands national team may hear his name called Thursday during the first round of the NBA draft, according to various sports news sites.
Claxton debuted for the USVI national team last summer during FIBA World Cup qualifying versus the Bahamas, and some observers now expect him to be a first-round pick in the NBA draft following a strong showing in his sophomore year at the University of Georgia.
Even though he was born in South Carolina, he is eligible for the Virgin Islands national team because it is the birthplace of his father Chase, who also attended the University of Georgia and played professionally for the Phoenix Suns and the Boston Celtics.
AJC.com, the online site of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, broke the news May 28 that Claxton would not return to Georgia, and quoted Claxton on his belief in himself as a reason why he stayed available in the draft.
“After testing the waters and getting the feedback I got, I feel like I made the right decision,” Claxton tweeted.
According to SportsTalkATL.com, he believes his draft stock’s rise is due to, “having teams see the way I can defend, my offense. People like to call me a project, which is fine. But when I get out there on the court, people will see my game. Teams seeing the player I can be and my frame and the way I can work to be the player I can become.”
During his second year at the University of Georgia he started all 32 games he played in and averaged 13 points, 8.6 rebounds and 2.5 blocked shots – first in the SEC and 10th best in the nation in that category – while earning second team All SEC honors.
The Ringer, a sports and pop culture website, has him going to the Atlanta Hawks with the 17th pick and says that he is “a tall, lanky center who projects as a super-switchable defender and versatile offensive player – if he develops his jumper,” and compares him to current NBA players Mason Plumlee and Al Horford.
At another sports website, Fansided.com, writer Chris Guest said there are reasons to believe the Hawks promised Claxton he will picked up at 17. Guest speculated that a promise from the Hawks could be the reason Claxton cancelled his remaining draft workouts.
Sports Illustrated’s mock draft has Claxton going to a team that should ring a bell with Virgin Islanders – the San Antonio Spurs, for 19 years the professional home of USVI hoop star Tim Duncan, a St. Croix native – with the 19th selection of the draft. SI Writer Jermery Woo said, “His (draft) range now begins somewhere in the teens, as he’s been one of the more notable risers during the past six weeks and has been able to showcase his versatility and tools during workouts. There’s some real optimism around the league that he can do some ball-handling and become uniquely useful on the perimeter as more of a forward than a center. His defensive capabilities are also extremely promising, as he’s mobile enough to switch on the perimeter and also help on the inside.”
If the Spurs pass on him at 19, they also hold the 29th pick and have been linked to Claxton with that selection as well.
CBS Sports lists Claxton as the 24th best prospect and predicts he’ll go to the Cleveland Cavaliers with the 26th pick in the draft.
Bleacher Report’s June 16 mock draft had him getting selected by the Milwaukee Bucks with the 30th and last pick in the first round. A Bucks blog, behindthebuckpass.com thinks Claxton may be a perfect fit in Milwaukee.
“The University of Georgia Sophomore Nicolas Claxton flew under the radar for much of the NCAA season, but the draft process has uncovered a potential defensive monster that may just suit the Milwaukee Bucks’ style perfectly,” the blog reported.
Claxton is a member of the player pool for the Virgin Islands Men’s National Team, whose next big competition is the Pan American Games this summer in Lima, Peru, where they will take on the United States, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela in the group stage. It is unlikely that Claxton will play this summer though, as he adjusts to his new team but will still be available to represent the Virgin Islands in future competitions.
The draft will be televised on ESPN and begin at 7 p.m. Eastern Time (and Atlantic Time) Thursday and will take place at the Barclays Center in New York.