Blake Griffin can’t jump over cars like he used to.
But that doesn’t mean he can’t make the jump from All-Star to champion.
Over the past two seasons, since knee surgeries robbed him of his once jaw-dropping athleticism, Griffin has had to adjust his game. The newest Net isn’t the same dominant player who made six All-Star games, but Griffin — who turns 32 on Tuesday — said he’s learned to be a more resourceful one.
“Sometimes I’ll go back and watch film from earlier in my career and I always have that [thought], ‘Ah, I wish I’d seen it this way.’ So just where I’m at in my career and also having all that experience, you see the game differently,” Griffin said. “I watch those clips and wish I knew what I know now. So I hope to put that to use here.”
Griffin overcame a broken left kneecap as a rookie to become one of the league’s great leapers. He once jumped over a Kia in the Slam Dunk Contest, and joined DeAndre Jordan with the Clippers to form Lob City.
However, after averaging 24.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.4 assists to be All-NBA in 2018-19, he hurt his left knee late in the season and had surgery to repair cartilage damage in April 2019. Then he needed arthroscopic debridement eight months later, and has never been the same.
After having more than 1,000 dunks with the Clippers, he had just 55 in two-plus years in Detroit, none this season.
“He’s had a history of knee issues, where he used to be a player who lived above the rim. He’s adapted and become a guy that handles the ball very well. He passes very well, he’s making 3s. He’s adapted and changed his game,” Nets coach Steve Nash said.
“It’s a tribute to the skill and intelligence he has as a 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. He’s adjusted and changed his game and flourished in other ways.”
Like improving his jumper and ballhandling. Combined with his passing — averaging 4.4 assists for his career — that makes him a fit with Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving.
On a veteran minimum, he’ll be a supporting actor, not the star.
“It’s about … being able to facilitate, another DHO [dribble handoff], or hit a lob threat, DeAndre or Nic [Claxton] down low,” Griffin said. “I have a lot of experience with that.”
With Griffin having not played since Feb. 12, he was still ramping up and didn’t play Thursday against Boston. But getting playmaking from a 6-foot-9, 250-pound backup has a value, especially for a team in need of size.
“Blake’s a small-ball 5 who can make open 3s. He’s really good in the half-roll playmaking, playing four-on-three, three-on-two, two-on-one. He’s an intelligent player, has great experience,” Nash said. “So there’s plenty of ways he can adapt and help.”
One role will be as a, well, roller. Nash has used 6-4 Bruce Brown in the short roll, making split-second decisions whether to drive, lob to Jordan or hit shooters like Irving or Joe Harris.
Now picture Griffin in that role.
“Blake’s always been a great short roller. Earlier on in his career that short roll was a dunk, whoever was coming across was probably getting posterized,” Jordan said. “Blake’s a great passer. Anytime I was in the dunker spot and he got in the short roll, I was licking my chops because I knew it was probably coming up to me, because the guys had to step up.
“We’ve got Joe in the corner and Ky in the corner. … We’ll have a ton of different options. But Blake has developed his jump shot, so short rolling, he can knock that shot down. We’ve got guys in the corner he can pass to, and he also has a lob pass to me. We’ve got so many options, we’ve just got to take what the defense gives us and make them pay, which he’ll make them do.”