Many were skeptical about what the future held for former all-star Blake Griffin heading into the 2020 season. Coming off knee surgery, he was no longer the explosive athletic monster he once was during his LA days. Before signing with the Brooklyn Nets off a buyout in late March, Griffin hadn’t dunk in nearly a year. Fans wondered if he had anything left in the tank to contribute to a team with championship aspirations. Some even believed he would be a net negative to any team that signed him given his play in Detroit.
Fast forward to a few months later and we see Griffin dunking on Giannis Antetokounmpo in the playoffs and becoming a key player in the Nets’ rotation. So what happened? Did Griffin manage to turn the clock back or are we seeing a new, different version of him?
The Rejuvenation of Blake Griffin
When the Nets announced that they signed Blake Griffin, I was both excited and intrigued. I was very curious to see how the former all-star would adjust to his new role. We didn’t have to wait too long to see what Blake Griffin brought to the table, however. Throughout his career, Griffin has always been a high-effort player who fights for rebounds and goes after loose balls. Even at this stage of his career, he has maintained that same type of hustle. In this clip, he dives to the ground trying to secure the loose ball against the Portland Trail Blazers. There’s a similar story in this clip but instead, it is against Milwaukee in the playoffs. We see Griffin diving to the floor again to keep the possession alive.
The point is that Griffin’s hustle and extra-effort plays are valuable to a team looking for a championship. Every NBA team with championship aspirations needs high-hustle players. These are players who do little things such as drawing charges, forcing turnovers, diving for loose balls or, in some cases, committing hard fouls. Statistically speaking, Griffin is one of the top hustle-players in the league. To be more specific, he led the league in total charges drawn.
However, it’s not just the hustle that makes Griffin so likable. As we all know, he was a perennial all-star at his prime. He has always been a high IQ player. Because of his high basketball intelligence, he can do multiple things such as being a playmaker and scorer. In his last two healthy seasons in Detroit, he averaged 5.8 assists per game. Griffin’s ability to be a playmaker and handle the ball opens up the Nets’ offense even more as a small-ball 5.
Griffin’s jump shot has also improved, as he shot 38% from three last year and 40% on catch-and-shoot threes with the Nets. Essentially, he is another threat that teams need to plan against. After all, he played a big role in many of the Nets’ high-quality wins. One example is this game against the Nuggets, where he scored 20 points and lead the third-quarter comeback. Another example is Game 1 of the semi-finals against the Bucks where he dropped 18/14.
Defensively, Griffin is still a strong post defender. The Nets had relative success guarding Giannis in the paint using Griffin during the regular season and playoffs. However, due to age/injuries, he doesn’t have the same lateral quickness he once had. This means that he has a hard time switching on to smaller guards and, some nights, he is a target on defense. Overall, I think it’s fair to say Griffin has exceeded expectations since signing with Brooklyn. His transition from a star player to a role player was seamless. He’s an excellent high-effort player who brings some important offensive skills to the Nets. While he’s not perfect on defense, he is still a strong post defender the Nets can use when going up against players such as Joel Embiid.
What can we expect from Griffin this upcoming season?
Blake Griffin re-signed with the Nets to a one-year deal. Even in the postseason, where Griffin was thrown into the fire as the starting center, he was still very productive and made an impact. This upcoming season, we should continue to see this same rejuvenated Griffin who draws charges and makes high-hustle plays while also spacing out the floor. We can also expect to see some occasional dunk highlights reminiscent of his Lob City days.
It will be interesting to see how much playing time Griffin receives this upcoming season. The Nets’ roster currently has former all-star LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Claxton as their main two centers. For their hybrid 4/5 they have Paul Millsap, Griffin and at times Kevin Durant. All five of these guys are deserving of heavy minutes but play similar roles and positions. In other words, the Nets might have an issue of redundancy on the roster. The key thing here is to remain flexible. As I reiterated before, we shouldn’t get married to just one strict starting lineup/rotation. Regardless, I’m excited to see year two of Griffin as he continues his redemption arc.