After agreeing to part ways with the Detroit Pistons last week, Blake Griffin didn’t waste any time with his mid-season free agency, quickly agreeing to join the Brooklyn Nets with the second half of the NBA about to get underway.
“They obviously expressed interest, interest was mutual,” said Griffin after his first practice with the team on Wednesday. “Felt like they had a need for another big another guy to facilitate, sort of fill these gaps they have. Any time you have these type of players, you need guys around them to relieve that pressure, you know, and then for me it's about playing meaningful basketball, playing in the playoffs and contending for a championship. Those were my main reasons.”
In his 11th NBA season, Griffin played seven-plus years alongside DeAndre Jordan in the Clippers’ frontcourt as part of the Lob City combo that helped power LA to six straight playoff appearances through the 2016-17 season. Over the first half of his career, he was regularly a Western Conference All-Star teammate of Kevin Durant and James Harden, and Griffin, Jordan, and Irving made up three-fifths of the All-NBA Third Team in 2014-15.
“As far as players go, I talked to KD the most,” said Griffin about choosing Brooklyn. “But I've known James, KD, Kyrie, obviously DeAndre for a long time so this was a familiar team for me. As far as my conversations with coach (Steve) Nash, it's just like I talked about, coming in to fill those gaps, be a short roller, be ready to facilitate, to set screens, to roll, to pop, to do whatever, so that's my focus is to really dive in these first several games and really see where I'm needed to fill those spots and help us achieve our goal.”
Griffin has five All-NBA seasons on his resume, the most recent in 2018-19 when he averaged 24.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 5.4 assists while playing 35.0 minutes per game for Detroit. But he played just 18 games a year ago after a knee injury, and the Pistons pivoted into rebuilding mode. In his 20 games for Detroit this season, Griffin averaged 12.3 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.9 assists.
Nash said on Wednesday that he sees the 6-foot-10, 250-pound forward as a small-ball center who brings shooting range and playmaking to the Brooklyn frontcourt. Griffin built his NBA stardom as a high-flyer, but he’s steadily evolved over the years. He’s averaged 4.4 assists per game for his career, with a high of 6.2 during the 2017-18 season that he split between the Clippers and Pistons. He took a career-high 7.0 3-pointers per game during his All-NBA season in 2018-19 — making 36.2 percent — and was attempting 6.2 per game through 20 games this year.
“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,” said Nash. “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 that, when you think of Blake Griffin in the first part of his career, you think of a high-wire act. Now, he’s still able to be very productive doing other things and not doing that. So he’s adjusted and changed his game and flourished in other ways with 3-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.”
“Over the years, I’ve tried to always add something to my game, and I think now at this point, I have sort of a skill set to be able to fit different areas and help those guys out,” said Griffin. “So I’m not gonna force anything, but coach Nash told me to play my game and not worry too much about that. Once we get out there, we’ll get a better feel the more time we spend together, so I’m excited just to start that process. It already started today with practice, but it’s gonna take a little time, so I’m looking forward to it.”
While they were together in LA, Jordan took turns admiring Griffin’s poster-ready dunks and feasting from the dunker spot when defenders flocked to Griffin in the paint. Griffin’s size and skillset expands the possibilities for the Brooklyn frontcourt and helps turn a group that has been short on depth for much of the season into one full of options.
“With a guy like Blake, man, when we put him in, we can go small, we can switch a lot of things and with him and Kevin on the floor at the same time with James and Ky, it’s a lot of threats out there, and Joe (Harris) coming off screens, shooting the hell out of the ball like he’s been doing this season,” said Jordan. “It’s kind of tough and I love that we can have so many different lineups against teams, whether they’re big, they’re small, whatever it is, I think we’re ready to be able to adjust, and also have teams adjust to us too.”