Brooklyn Show: Nets New Power Forward Blake Griffin Still Has Plenty More To Offer
Griffin makes debut, comes up with first dunk since 2019
He may not be the uber-athletic, high-flying power forward that he once was during his Los Angeles Clippers. Still, Blake Griffin insists that he has more to offer, even in a situation where he fulfill a role player position and log in limited playing time for his new team, the Brooklyn Nets.
A couple of weeks after joining the Nets’ already star-studded roster, Griffin finally made his debut for his new squad. The veteran big man only played a little below 15 minutes, and came up with 2 points, 2 rebounds and 1 block against the Washington Wizards. The Nets went on to win the game via a seven-point decision.
Still, something happened that could be a good sign of things to come for Griffin and the whole Nets organization. Griffin’s sole bucket in that game came via a dunk where he drown the lane to throw it down. It happened to be his first dunk since December 2019, which is indeed a sigh of relief for the former Slam Dunk Contest champion.
Griffin was obviously ecstatic after that play, but he also addressed the minutes restriction program that many people expect the Nets coaching staff to place him in. Griffin pointed out that he is confident that he can play more than fifteen minutes each game, but he also emphasized that he will always trust head coach Steve Nash and the rest of the Nets coaching staff in making this decision for him. (as per Tom Dowd of Brooklynnets.com)
“It felt great. I knew once it happened it was going to be it was going to be a thing. And so I tried not to look at the bench when I was coming back down. But then I kind of peeked over and I saw DeAndre (Jordan) all the way out on the side, and I saw everybody standing up. So it's hard not to smile in that situation. But it felt good to just get that out of the way and move on.
I think I can play more than 15 for sure. I think we're just being very smart about it when there's no need to come in and play 30 right away. I thought our performance staff has done a great job so far. And I'm following their lead on this, and whatever they say, hopefully, I get to play a little bit more soon. But I understand the importance of listening to them and being ready when we really need it.”
Of course, Griffin is not expected to really play a major role for the Nets this season. Following the installment of a new head coach in Steve Nash last season, the Nets then pulled off a blockbuster deal with the Houston Rockets that landed them former Most Valuable Player and superstar James Harden.
With Harden adding to a powerhouse line-up spearheaded by the formidable duo of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, it is without a doubt that the Nets are one of the favorites to win the title this year. They also have a strong supporting cast that features the likes of veteran shooter Joe Harris, defensive-minded forward Bruce Brown, young gunner Landry Shamet, veteran big man DeAndre Jordan, and veteran combo forward Jeff Green.
On top of that, there are swirling rumors that the Nets front office are not done making moves just yet. Young big man Nicolas Claxton has been a revelation for them off the bench, but it is perfectly understandable that they want someone with more experience and court smarts to man that position when they reach the more important games in the playoffs.
Speculations have it that the Nets front office are interested in bringing in another veteran big man to shore up their frontcourt. Among the notable names that are reportedly on the Nets’ radar are Mason Plumlee of the Detroit Pistons, and JaVale McGee and Andre Drummond of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
This means that the Nets are still not strongly convinced that Griffin can play the center role for them. That does not mean that Griffin will not play. It is just that the team is more keen on probably slotting him in the power forward role. As per Chris Milholen and Matthew Brooks of SB Nation’s Nets Daily, Nash reiterated that they are still playing the cautious game on Griffin’s development and progress with the team. Nash also pointed out that there is still no definite role in place for Griffin, and that “anything is possible” depending on how both Griffin and the whole team will progress moving forward.
“We’re excited to have him back and excited to incorporate him into our team but we’ll make sure we’re cautious with not overloading him early on here. It is kind of his reintroduction to playing and to our team. I’m not going to say what that is but we’ll definitely be cautious to not overextend him. Anything’s possible. We’ve played a lot of different guys, a lot of different starters, a lot of different rotations and matchups. It’s all possible but I think here, we just want to make sure he is physically able to adapt to playing again safely and that he can be incorporated into our team as effectively and efficiently as possible. I think a lot of that is going to be played out.
We’ll see how he fits, how he feels, how he looks and how he gels with our team. There is no limitation on what that can possibly be. We hope for the best but first and foremost, let’s get him going and have him feeling physically able to get it in it again and have his fitness back to where it was when he was playing. Then, we will see how he fits with the team and the end goal in that process. He can certainly be a starter or come off the bench but I think that is the case for anyone on our team outside of the Big Three. Anything is possible.”
Griffin, a six-time All-Star, is currently putting up averages of 11.6 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 0.7 steals per game this season. He played 20 games for the Detroit Pistons before his contract was bought out by the team. Numerous teams were interested in signing the 32-year old power forward, but Griffin ultimately chose the Nets.
With the Nets, Griffin has the golden opportunity to compete again in the playoffs and possibly nab his first championship in the NBA. Of course, a chance at playing in the Finals is not a sure shot for Griffin and the Nets. Joel Embiid has been putting in an MVP-caliber season for the Eastern Conference frontrunners Philadelphia 76ers, while Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks have brought in new faces like Jrue Holiday and P.J. Tucker to shore up their roster.
Still, the addition of Griffin should serve as a low-risk, high-reward move for the Nets. Griffin is a versatile big man who can create his own shots, while also making plays for his teammates either on the post or at the elbow. It now remains to be seen if the former All-Star power forward can play some good defense, which Nash emphasizes could be a barometer on what role Griffin can play in the Nets’ rotation.
“I think anything is possible. I think he’s probably best as a center but we’ll see. That doesn’t mean he’s a smart or versatile enough player to play different positions. It comes down to matchups. It comes down to how well he is shooting the ball. He is capable to shoot and there are possibilities for him to play both spots.
It’s really hard to work at that type of stuff. Defensively, it’s something he’s gotta add to our team, and hopefully through his experience (and) rebounding, he can have an impact down there. But we’ve gotta give him time to get his legs back under him and to understand how we play and what we’re doing... Everyone’s gotta be able to give something defensively.”
Griffin and his new Nets teammates still have their work cut out in front of them. By sporting a decent record of 30 wins against only 15 defeats, they are currently sitting behind the 76ers and the Bucks in the East standings. They are still awaiting the return of Durant, who is currently sitting out due to a hamstring injury. It is reported that Durant may miss another week before he could get back to the court this season.
Can the Nets depend on Claxton in the playoffs?
There is no doubt that sophomore center Nicolas Claxton has carved a consistent niche in head coach Steve Nash’s rotation. The 6-foot-11 big man is currently logging in 18.8 minutes per game off the bench, while producing decent numbers of 9.4 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.5 blocks, including a very efficient 63% overall clip from the field.
As per a column written by Alex Schiffer of The Athletic, Claxton dedicates his improvement to the mentorship of the Nets’ veterans, most especially from Kevin Durant. Claxton points out that he would always defend Durant during pick-up games in the offseason, something that really helped him boost his understanding of the game in the pros.
Claxton also expressed his gratitude to the leadership of James Harden, who has always been vocal in teaching him where to position himself on both ends of the court. The young big man can’t help but be excited about his future with the team, especially now that they are in a position where they could compete for the coveted Larry O’Brien trophy.
“The game, it’s slowing down. My first game especially, everything was, I was like, oh my gosh, but I had to slow down. I’ve just got to go out there and have fun, and that’s what I’ve been doing these past few games. You see the results, and I look forward to continuing to build. The team — it’s a lot different. I have never played with James. I have never played with KD. I am always guarding KD when we play pick-up. But they’re some of the best basketball players in the world. Especially James, he’s really vocal. So, he’s always letting me know what he’s seeing and what to do. Going out there and playing off those guys is not that hard. And it’s exciting, you know, because the things they can do out there — it’s dope. So, I’m happy to be here.
As soon as (Durant) steps foot in the gym, he’s always laser sharp, and me just being around him, working with him, defending him, it really just gives me a mental edge when I’m going out there and defending other guys because I feel like he’s the best in the world. So if I can do a halfway decent job defending him, then I can guard anybody.”
Of course, his role in Nash’s rotation did not come easily for the young big man. Claxton missed the first 32 games of the season either due to an injury or due to the fact that he was not just fielded in the game. But with the Nets trading away center Jarrett Allen to the Cleveland Cavaliers in an effort to acquire Harden, Claxton was suddenly thrust into the role as a back-up big man for the team.
And so far, Claxton is thriving in his newfound role. In his first few games with the team this season, Nash only gave him below-20 minutes per game. But with the efficiency and discipline that he is showing on both offense and defense, Claxton is now averaging at least twenty minutes in the Nets’ last five assignments.
He has scored in double digits six times this season, and he is showing that he has the potential to become one of the best rebounders in the league in the future. Having said all these, it remains to be seen if Claxton can be a trustworthy frontcourt player when the stakes and pressure are higher come playoff time. There are reports that the Nets front office are still gauging the trade and buyout market in an effort to land a veteran big man to shore up their frontcourt.