The rich got richer during the All-Star break when the Nets signed six-time All-Star free agent Blake Griffin to join the Big 3 of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden in their push for an NBA title. Griffin’s productivity and health has declined as a result of a series of knee injuries, but the 6-9 forward/center is expected to play a major role off the bench as a small-ball center.
"I think Blake is a small-ball five who can make open threes," Nets coach Steve Nash said. "He’s really good in the half-roll playmaking, playing four-on-three, three-on-two, two-on-one situations. He’s an intelligent player, has great experience. So there’s plenty of ways that I think he can adapt and help our team once he’s fit and ready to go."
Griffin said he’s not injured, but he agrees with the Nets’ plan to ramp him up because he hasn’t played since Feb. 12 with the Pistons, who benched him once buyout negotiations began. So he sat when the Nets opened the second half of the NBA season against the Celtics Thursday night at Barclays Center.
Griffin said he mostly talked to Nets star Kevin Durant during the buyout process to become a free agent, but he has long friendships with James Harden, Kyrie Irving and DeAndre Jordan, who played with him for nine years on the Clippers.
Griffin was eager to leave a poor Pistons team to join a potential NBA title contender in his 11th season.
"I felt like they had a need for another big guy to sort of fill those gaps they have," Griffin said. "Any time you have these type of [superstar] players, you need guys around them to relieve that pressure. And then, for me, it’s about playing meaningful basketball, playing in the playoffs and contending for a championship. Those were my main reasons."
Once a high-flying dunk artist, Griffin has toned down his game because of a series of knee injuries. He hasn’t dunked for two years. But he is a solid three-point shooter, and he has developed into an excellent playmaker and ballhandler.
"He used to be a player who lived above the rim, and so he’s adapted and become a guy that handles the ball very well," Nash said. "He passes very well, he’s making threes, so he’s adapted and changed his game. It’s a tribute to the skill and intelligence that he has as a basketball player.
"When you think of Blake Griffin in the first part of his career, you think of a high-wire act. Now, he’s able to be very productive doing other things. He’s adjusted and changed his game and flourished in other ways with three-point shooting, with playmaking, ballhandling and those types of skills that are very valuable in today’s game but obviously a different look from the Blake we became accustomed to in the early part of his career."
In his prime, Griffin was a major scorer. But he averaged only 12.3 points on poor 36.5% shooting with the Pistons this season. If you put him in a supporting role with three superstars plus NBA-leading three-point shooter Joe Harris, it’s likely Griffin will find more room to operate and impact the game.
"I played with great players," Griffin said. "I’ve played on all different types of teams. When you’re on the court, you’re just playing basketball, so the ball finds the best players. That for us is KD, Kyrie and James. That’s not really a thing I think I will consciously have to do . . . Those guys make the game easier, so you play off them and fill those spots."