What Blake Griffin Will (And Won’t) Bring To The Brooklyn Nets

The Brooklyn Nets picked up the biggest name that is likely to hit the buyout market this season in Blake Griffin after he agreed to part ways with the Detroit Pistons. Griffin went through three seasons in Detroit that saw him play the best basketball of his career briefly before persistent injuries derailed his and the Pistons’ trajectories.

Griffin’s presence on the loaded Nets caused plenty of gawking as they add yet another former All-Star to the roster, but the question remains exactly how much Griffin can provide in his current state. In 2018-19, Griffin was one of the best players in the NBA, averaging 24.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 5.4 assists per game on strong efficiency, transforming his game and embracing a lead creator role. That season he also played through knee issues to drag the Pistons to the 8-seed, where they were unceremoniously ousted by the Bucks in the first round. For his efforts, Griffin needed multiple knee procedures and has played just 38 games since.

In those 38 games, he hasn’t been the same scoring force he was in that ’18-19 campaign, lacking the same burst to create separation and losing some lift on his jumper that has seen his three-point shooting dip significantly. Even so, at a vet minimum contract on the buyout market, he was more than worthy of a flyer from the Nets, even if he doesn’t fit their exact needs. The biggest critique of the Nets is that they simply don’t have the defensive personnel to be even an average defensive team — they currently sit 26th in defensive rating at 113.6. Griffin won’t address that issue in a significant way, particularly given how injuries have limited his mobility some, which was his best attribute as a defender.

But the truth is, there isn’t an easy answer for the Nets that will fix their defense. This is a team whose best lineups will feature Kyrie Irving, James Harden, Kevin Durant, one of Joe Harris or Bruce Brown (depending on if they want a little more defense or the best shooter in the NBA), and someone at center. That someone at center doesn’t exist at their price point to suddenly make them a good defense, so why not steer into the skid and say, “we are going to be better than you on offense for 48 minutes”? That is evidently the plan with the Griffin signing, a player who wasn’t able to carry an offense anymore, but who can fit snugly into what the Nets want to do and will almost always be sharing the floor with a premiere ball-handler, even with the second unit.

In Detroit, Griffin was asked to create the vast majority of his shot attempts, as just 28.6 percent of his two-point field goals in 20 games this season were assisted. That is a stark contrast to the player he was in Los Angeles, where Chris Paul controlled the offense and Griffin always had 60-plus percent of his two-pointers come via assist. In Brooklyn, that presumably will be the case once again, as Griffin moves back off the ball and can attack the basket as a cutter and roll man, rather than having to do so off the dribble. With all of the attention defenses have to pay to the Nets’ stars, Griffin should benefit from better looks and opportunities to create space for himself off the ball while defenders try to provide help on Brooklyn’s trio of elite ball-handlers and shot-creators.

Griffin isn’t the generational high-flyer he once was (he didn’t have a single dunk this season and had just five last season), but DeAndre Jordan isn’t as explosive as his Clipper days, either, and he enjoys a number of open lob finishes each night because of the attention Harden and Irving attract and their willingness to make that pass when help leaves someone else open near the basket. Griffin may not be putting people on posters anymore, but for someone that is still a quality finisher at the rim (65.6 percent inside three feet this season). He hasn’t been getting nearly the volume of looks there because he has had to create for himself (just 14.4 percent of attempts inside three feet), and playing with the Nets figures to be a tremendous boost for his interior scoring.

On top of what should be a better role for him on offense as a finisher, his improvement as a facilitator and passer will fit well with the Nets. While he may not be as explosive in creating his own looks, his feel as a passer has always been an underrated aspect of his game and he really built on that skill while in Detroit.

The biggest swing skill for Griffin is going to be his shooting. Prior to the injury, Griffin had established himself as a solid three-point shooter, with a career-best 36.2 three-point percentage during the ’18-19 season. In the 38 games since, he’s shot just 28.1 percent from deep (66-for-235), but showed some meager improvement (31.5 percent) this season. If he can be a spot-up and pick-and-pop threat as well as a roller and cutter, his value to the Nets increases significantly. In any case, being asked to do less and play less should allow him to play better, and the Nets have a coaching staff that is exceptionally good at tasking role players with things they can excel at. As odd as it sounds to say about Brooklyn’s historically great offense, if they’re to go all-in on this offense first/defense maybe model, they needed more punch in the frontcourt for the second unit. Griffin, if nothing else, should provide that for them.

There’s a reason the Griffin signing barely caused a ripple in the NBA title odds in Vegas, as the player he was in Detroit isn’t a needle-mover at that level. However, it’s very possible that the version of Griffin the Nets get is better than the one we saw with the Pistons over the past two seasons. It’d be stunning if he returns to pre-injury form, but simply by being placed in lineups as, at most, a secondary creator is going to allow him to find the things he does well and focus on those, rather than trying to carry an offense. Defensively, he’s not going to change much, but for a Nets team that needs more frontcourt depth they’re comfortable playing in the postseason, Griffin is a low-risk pickup that could bring a higher reward than many expect.