The great Latvian chess player Mikhail Tal once said that to win, “You must take your opponent into a deep dark forest where 2+2=5, and the path leading out is only wide enough for one”.
How aware the Brooklyn Nets are of this strategy remains unclear, but Tal’s words seem pertinent given the news the franchise has added even more offensive firepower to their roster in the form of Blake Griffin. He’s not the defensive stopper they need, nor is he a true sharpshooter. Then again, he does make this team even more frightening than it was already.
That forest just got a bit deeper and a lot darker for the NBA’s other teams.
That’s right, six-time NBA All-Star Blake Griffin, to go along with their other All-Stars Kevin Durant, James Harden, Kyrie Irving. Not to mention Griffin’s former ‘Lob City’ frontcourt partner DeAndre Jordan, who was an All-Star in 2017, and the sniper Joe Harris, who led the league in three-point shooting in 2018-19.
Talk about overkill.
The point is this: the Nets have added another playmaker to a team already possessing Durant, Harden and Irving, three superstars who shine with the ball in hand. Blake Griffin is not the rim-running freak of nature he used to be, the guy who dunked Timofey Mozgov and Kendrick Perkins into oblivion all the way back when.
Now he is a ball-handling pseudo-stretch four who cannot get off the floor. Quite literally, he has not dunked once this season.
So how on earth does it all fit together?
The truth is, it does not. At least, not in the purest sense. There is only one basketball. That is a maxim that will never change. But so too is the general truth that a team can never have too many creators. Blake is certainly still that.
In his own words on joining the team, Griffin said “[I] felt like they had a need for another big, another guy to facilitate, fill these gaps they have.
“Anytime you have these type of players, you need guys around them to relieve that pressure. Then for me it’s about playing meaningful basketball, playing in the playoffs and contending for a championship.”
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He can handle the ball either on the perimeter or from the post and while he’s not a knockdown shooter, he has demonstrated in the past that he can be effective enough to keep defenders honest – he averaged over 36 per cent on seven attempts per game in 2017/18.
If teams do sag off Griffin to double team the Nets’ other threats on the floor, he will punish them. He is shooting 44 per cent on open looks from deep this season. That creates even more space for Harden, Durant and Irving to work simply because opponents have to respect his jumper at least a little bit, they can’t leave him to double or clog the paint on drives.
With the legitimate deadeye Harris (43.8 per cent from three) also roaming around the arc, it will be nigh on impossible to stop the Nets getting a good look given that the aforementioned ‘Big Three’ can cook against any defender if left one-on-one.
Then there’s the fact that Bruce Brown is morphing into a true positionless player, a center the size of a guard or a guard that plays like a center, whichever you prefer, along with the veteran Swiss Army Knife Jeff Green still plugging the holes in this top-heavy roster with useful minutes off the bench.
It leaves Brooklyn with almost limitless potential for line-up creativity depending on the match-up. That’s what this signing does more than anything else: it gives the Nets and head coach Steve Nash complete freedom. At least in the form of even more ways to hurt teams come the post-season.
They really will be able to take rivals into a deep dark forest and make 2+2=5. When games come down to the final few possessions as they so often do in the playoffs, Brooklyn can roll out a line-up of Irving, Harden, Harris, Durant and Griffin. Simply put, you cannot guard those five guys effectively. You have to pick your poison.
If it’s Griffin, so be it. He will create a shot for one of the other four or work for a bucket himself. Let’s not forget, this a man who scored 20 points a night for a decade straight. While he does not possess the athleticism that initially made him a star player in this league, he transitioned from a pure dunker to an all-round scorer and facilitator a long time ago. Teams will send their best defenders at Durant, Harden and Irving. Griffin is going to get plenty of match-ups where he can feast like the good old days.
There will inevitably be struggles on the defensive end given that opponents will naturally target the former Pistons forward, who has never been a great defender. But given that he will only play around 20 minutes a night and Nash has the aforementioned Green and Brown to soak up minutes on tougher assignments, the overall benefits of having Griffin outweigh the drawbacks – without even mentioning the massive psychological impact his signing will have on the rest of the team.
In the eyes of the fans, media and competitors, this is the move that tips Brooklyn into title favourites territory. Their players know this, and that no other team will be able to stop them in crunch time. Sometimes that’s all that’s needed to erase any self-doubt, to smell the fear in the prey as you stalk it.
Griffin choose the Nets for one reason and one reason only: to win a ring. Knowing that, and the player Griffin has been in this league, they probably believe they can a little more too.