Once again, Matt Brooks makes the call to a fellow SB Nation reporter to take a look at a player the Nets just acquired, this time about Blake Griffin.
It feels like every single week that I’m typing out the words “so-and-so superstar (or former superstar) is a Brooklyn Net.”
And yet, Blake Griffin is a freakin’ Brooklyn Net. What an utterly insane season. While some will point to Blake’s below-the-rim style –– particularly that he hasn’t dunked since 2019, all those ten years ago –– as evidence that the former dunk champion is capital “D” done, others will highlight his efforts in adjusting his game to the modern NBA. Nets former assistant coach, Steve Jones Jr., highlighted Griffin’s floor spacing on Twitter: He’s shooting 44.2% on wide-open threes (defender 6+ feet away or more), per NBA stats. Just putting two-and-two together, as ESPN’s Zach Lowe did on “The Jump,” on a court that features the all-world shooting talents of James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, and Joe Harris, there’s a good chance Blake gets plenty of those wide-open freebies.
— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) March 8, 2021
But basketball exists beyond the realm of just catching and shooting wide-open shots, no matter the sheer talent of a group. Griffin will need to find his place on offense, but maybe more importantly, on defense, too.
So to get a better feel for what Blake may bring to the table, I brought in an expert. Allow me to introduce Ku Kahlil, writer and reporter for our sister site, Detroit Bad Boys. Ku’s as bright as it gets when it comes to having a firm grasp on all things analytics and film for the Detroit Pistons, as made evident by his awesome YouTube channel, Ku’s Ball Room, which you should absolutely check out.
First off, Ku, thank you for joining me. I’m excited to get some insight on what to expect from Blake Griffin. Lord knows there have been a lot of varying opinions on the guy.
What better place to begin than with…
Matt Brooks: We know, historically at least, what kind of offensive force Blake Griffin can be. For this specific Nets team, what is the single biggest thing he’ll add to Steve Nash’s offense?
Ku Kahlil: I think the most positive, realistic addition Griffin can bring to Brooklyn is his playmaking. He’s not the same athlete he was even in 2018-19, let alone back in his Clipper days. He struggled to beat anyone off the dribble this year and shockingly struggled in post-up situations as well. I don’t expect to see Griffin get much better in either area in Brooklyn.
His playmaking, however, is still rather sharp. For example, without including passes, Griffin ranked in the 44th-percentile in post-up situations. If you include passes, however, that skyrockets to the 73rd-percentile. This trend remains true if you look at other areas of his game offensively, as well. Another example is in the pick-and-roll. This year, Griffin ranked in the 90th-percentile as the pick-and-roll ball-handler when including passes.
Obviously, I don’t expect Griffin to be getting many chances at that on a loaded Brooklyn team with better options. However, I think Steve Nash can really take advantage of his passing in short-roll situations. For this to happen, though, Griffin would have to start rolling again –– something he completely stopped doing in Detroit.
MB: Some of Blake’s shooting numbers this season are BAD. Is there reason to fret about his longevity as a shooter? Or was this a byproduct of playing on a sometimes cramped floor?
KK: His shooting is at least a bit concerning. The only year he was ever that great at shooting from distance was his MVP-caliber season in 2018-19. His numbers have dipped since then and injuries, I think, have a ton to do with it, obviously. However, I think it’s also fair to think that playing with three superstars who will get him more quality looks may make life easier on him, and Nets fans may see an improved percentage from beyond the arc.
He is shooting 34 percent on catch-and-shoot threes. That isn’t terrible but isn’t good either. The thing is, Griffin shot over 36 percent from deep in 2018-19, but what made him such a good shooter then was the fact he was doing a ton of it off-the-dribble. That season he did shoot 37 percent on catch-and-shoot threes, but he took 1.5 more attempts on pull-up threes and shot 35 percent on them. I think Brooklyn just needs to hope Griffin can drift closer to that 37 percent, while also realizing that expecting him to be a legit threat off-the-dribble from out there is basically gone now –– as he’s currently shooting 29.2 percent on pull-up threes.
MB: ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted that the Nets plan to use Blake as a backup 5. Do you think this is a good role for him?
KK: I gotta be honest, I think that’s awful for the Nets. Blake is so bad on defense now, it’s comical. He can’t move that well anymore, so that makes it hard for him to move laterally and stick with guys who have any semblance of an off-the-dribble game. The area, I think, this is going to hurt the most is close-outs. Blake’s close-outs, and I am not exaggerating when I say this, maybe the worst in NBA history. I can not imagine running any kind of drop coverage with Blake as your 5 if you’re playing against a big who can shoot. What’s even scarier is playing against a big who can shoot, but also attack good close-outs, let alone awful ones. That doesn’t even take into account his lack of rim protection.
Griffin will take charges for you, so I guess that’s a plus. To be honest, at this point in his career, I find it hard to find any situation for Blake on defense that would be “good”, so shoot why not try him at small-ball 5?
MB: Defensively speaking, is there a way to maximize Blake? Is he a “drop” defender? A hedge and recover guy? A switch defender?
KK: Haha, well I guess I just answered that. I don’t see how you play drop coverage with Blake without the other team’s big making you pay from outside. Personally, I would say his best chance is as a switch guy, as that doesn’t ask him to do as much moving around off-ball. He’s still rather strong, so you won’t see many players bully him to the basket, and he is also a very smart player. In this scenario, he can study film before games of players’ tendencies and try to predict where they’re going on switches. I want to point, again, this is quite the dilemma Nash is going to have to figure out. I don’t see any good options, but I think switching may be the best possible. Maybe trapping and then asking him to recover could work if he gives 200 times more effort on that end, but I just don’t see that happening.
That is unless Griffin has faked his play and effort all season like Twitter is saying. Then I guess you can assume he’ll be able to do anything Nash will ask of him!
MB: And lastly, do you like the move for the Nets? And is Blake — dare I use the “W” word — washed?
KK: I really do love Blake Griffin. He became my favorite Piston of all-time while he was with Detroit and the fanbase appreciates what he did here, specifically sacrificing his body that 2018-19 season. However, I wouldn’t blame anyone for using that word. I won’t call him washed, because I think it’s disrespectful and I truly hope he revitalizes his career. But, those of us who watched him the past two seasons in Detroit see it as quite the obstacle for him to overcome.
As far as whether it’s a W for the Nets, I would still say, yes. I believe in the whole “collect as much talent, think about fit later.” On the surface, Blake is still very talented. The skills are not what has diminished, it’s his body. If Brooklyn, somehow someway, gets a healthier version of Blake, it’d be a steal for the minimum. The thing is, all we’ve heard in Detroit is this is as healthy as he’s going to get. So, I don’t know. At this point, while I don’t blame anyone for wanting to think this way, it’d be extremely optimistic, to the point of unrealistic, way of looking at things. It’s low-risk, high-reward, which I can buy for the Nets. If Blake doesn’t show more than he did in Detroit, then you sit him on the bench and you likely win the championship anyway. If he does show more, then you probably got a steal for the vet minimum. I just want to tell Nets fans, do not go into this expecting this to be another Bruce Brown. I know Detroit gave y’all one gem already for free. I don’t think this will be the same. I do hope I’m wrong though, because a healthy, fully functional Blake Griffin is absurdly fun to watch.
MB: Ku, I just want to thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer some of the more pressing Blake Griffin questions. Your insight, particularly about his ideal fit on defense, is highly appreciated around these parts. You and I both agree on this, my friend, a rejuvenated Blake would be one hell of a sight to see.
NetsDaily friends, be sure to give Ku a follow on Twitter if you enjoy creative, out-of-the-box sports content. His YouTube stuff is terrific, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say I took some inspiration for stuff of my own. Stay up to date with the Pistons through Ku, as it seems Detroit and Brooklyn are intersecting every couple of months at this point.