Speedy Claxton’s career has been a game of odds. As an undersized point guard from a low-D1 school, Claxton beat the system by becoming a first round draft pick back in 2000. He’s also defeated the odds by sticking in the League through disheartening injuries that cost him two entire seasons and parts of about six others.
Claxton has averaged solid back-up point guard numbers (9.3 ppg, 4.3 apg, 2.5 rpg and 1.5 stl) in 332 career games. He picked up a ring with the Spurs in 2003 and was among the league best in steal percentage in a personal best 71 games for the NO/OKC Hornets in 2005-06.
After missing about half of the 2006-07 season and all of the 2007-2008 season. Claxton is confident he’s bounced back from his injury and is ready to return. SLAM had a chance to talk to Claxton about his career, his health and being yet another player to have beaten Chris Paul in bowling.
SLAM: Do you feel like you’re ready for the season that’s about to start?
Speedy Claxton: Oh, yeah, I’m definitely ready for it. I haven’t played the last two years–I’ve been out with a knee injury–but I’m looking forward to this year. Now, I’m Just trying to stay in the weight room and keep my knee as strong as I can. Just trying to stay on the court this year.
SLAM: What’s the hardest part about missing the kind of time that you’ve missed?
SC: Getting your timing back. You’ve been in a groove for a couple years but then you take two years off and it’s kind of hard to get your timing back.
SLAM: What was the best thing that happened to you in the last two years?
SC: Nothin’, really. Well, I did have the chance to build my dream house in Westbury, N.Y.
SLAM: Does it frustrate you to have now missed two full NBA seasons?
SC: Oh, definitely. When you’re doing something you love, you always miss it if you’re not doing it.
SLAM: What kind of feeling is it for you, being the athletic and quick guy that you are, to know that you couldn’t just jump up and do things sometimes?
SC: It’s very frustrating because you know that once upon a time, you used to be able to do that. So, it’s kind of tough in that aspect.
SLAM: Before you went to the League, you weren’t really highly recruited out of Christ the King High School (Queens, N.Y.). Did that drive you?
SC: It drove me a little bit because I seen all the attention that Ira (Miller) and Erick (Barkley) and Lamar (Odom) was getting, and I wanted that same kind of attention but I wasn’t getting it until later on in my senior year. At that time, I had made a verbal commitment to Hofstra and it was too late to back out of it. Right before the season even started I gave them a verbal.
SLAM: Do you ever think back on what you and Coach Jay Wright accomplished at Hofstra?
SC: Oh, yeah. I think about it all the time. We brought that school from nothing and made them to what they are today, where everybody knows who they are. They even had the presidential debate there. Not so many people can say that they helped build a program. A lot of people went to schools that were already established, but we built that. We speak every so often.
SLAM: When did you realize that you had a legit shot at the League.
SC: In the middle of my senior year of college. When I would be playing a game, I would see a lot of scouts–and it wasn’t like one or two, it was like 10. That’s when I knew I had a good chance. It made me feel good. It actually made me play better because I would come out and I would feel the interest that was there for me so I would strive to do better.
SLAM: As far as the NBA goes, what team would you say that you fit in the best on so far in your career?
SC: Probably the Hornets two years ago. I had my best statistical season that year. It’s a very comfortable organization. When I was in New Orleans, I think I fit in the best. I came off the bench, but I played starter minutes. I would just kind of come in and try to score.
SLAM: Does having won a championship still drive you to go out there and be competitive?
SC: Oh, definitely. You know what it felt like and you wanna get back to that. That was a fun ride right there when I was with the Spurs. That was probably my second favorite season.
SLAM: Tell me about that year a little bit. Did you guys know that you had a real chance to win?
SC: Nah, actually. Once the season started, there weren’t really no championship talks, not even within the locker room. Even when we was in the playoffs, we wasn’t talking about championship. It was once we got too the championship that we was like, yo we can actually win this thing. We knew Jersey had a good team, but we knew that we had a better one at that point.
SLAM: What was the difference maker that year for the Spurs? What put you over the edge?
SC: Tim was just playing phenomenal at the point, and then you had myself, Ginobili, and Malik Rose coming off the bench, so that’s a strong bench. We just had a great mix of players–it was a veteran team, we had a lot of old guys, but we just meshed very well.
SLAM: Having played a ton of basketball in your life, who do you think the best player you’ve played against in any setting is?
SC: (With very little hesitation) Kobe.
SLAM: Outside of Kobe?
SC: (Slightly more, but still limited hesitation) Probably LeBron.
SLAM: What about point guards?
SC: Point guard wise? Hmmm, that’s interesting. I’m gonna have to say Nash. Yeah, he’s tough to guard cause he’s always got the ball in his hands plus they run a lot of pick and rolls for him.
SLAM: Do you still feel like you are or could be one of the quickest point guards in the league?
SC: Yeah, definitely. I know I’ve had some minor–well, not minor, but major setbacks–but I’m still one of the quickest ones.
SLAM: I know that there are a lot of different guards on the Hawks, so where do you think you fit in with what the Hawks are trying to do?
SC: I don’t know right now. I’m still trying to find my niche for this year. I haven’t been there for them for the past two years so they obviously moved on in a way. So, we’ll have to wait and see once the season starts.
SLAM: Do you have any advice for young guys, maybe 15-years-old, who are undersized but really want to take their game to the next level?
SC: Just believe that you can do it and work hard to try to achieve your goals. You never know what could happen.
SLAM: What are some of the stuff that you’re doing now to get ready, as far as catching up with what guys on the team have been doing?
SC: Just trying to stay in the weight room and keep my knee as strong as I can. Just trying to stay on the court this year.
SLAM: What do you like to do when you’re not playing basketball?
SC: I like to bowl.
SLAM: You and Chris Paul, who’s a better bowler.
SC: (Laughs) Oh, man, I am. I beat him a bunch of times.
SLAM: You ever bowl against him? Is he really as good as everybody says he is?
SC: Oh, yeah, we did all the time. I mean, he’s OK; he’s not bad.