After stumbling out of the gate and enduring some early struggles from a possibly banged-up, definitely out-of-shape James Harden, the Brooklyn Nets are in a good place. Entering Monday’s bout with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Steve Nash’s squad was tied with the Chicago Bulls for the best record in the East at 12-5.
The Nets also boast a top 10 defense as of this writing, a scenario that was close to unimaginable last season. And all of this has come together with All-Star point-man Kyrie Irving still sitting out over an objection to New York City’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
Not everything is coming up aces for the Nets, however, as Blake Griffin has seemingly reverted to his Pistons ways after resurging in Brooklyn down the stretch last season.
Actually, that may be underplaying the situation. Through 16 appearances in 2021-22, Griffin is averaging a career-low 5.7 points per game with an effective field-goal percentage of just 35.7. It’s a line that would have made Jason Collins look like Lew Alcindor by comparison.
So far, Nash has been exceedingly patient with the former All-Star. However, with Harden and Kevin Durant getting up there in years and a legitimate shot at an NBA title hanging in the balance, the time is nigh for him to take off the kiddie gloves. It’s time to get LaMarcus Aldridge into the starting five.
Getting Griffin Back on the Right Track
Aldridge has looked like a man with a new lease on life since returning from his brief retirement over the summer. The 36-year-old is putting up 12.2 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per contest. He’s also hitting shots (56.5% overall, 42.9% from three) at a higher rate than ever.
Make no mistake, Aldridge is no longer the guy who dropped 20-plus and 10 next to Brandon Roy or Damian Lillard, awesome though he has been. But that’s not who Brooklyn needs him to be.
Brooklyn needs a steady hand that makes the right play with the ball, rebounds, will try to defend and can occasionally spell Durant and Harden as a scoring threat. So far, Aldridge is filling that role as well or better than anyone else on the team. But this proposed promotion really isn’t about him.
It’s about giving Griffin a chance to prove he still belongs.
Clearly, that’s not happening against frontline NBA talent. If he can get in there against bench guys, though, and maybe take on some additional responsibility in spurts as a go-to option — as Aldridge has done — he may be able to build confidence and renew his investment in the Nets’ process.
If his abridged run with the team in 2020-21 showed us anything, it’s that a motivated and confident Blake Griffin still has a lot to offer. The guy we’ve seen so far this season… not so much.
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Sticking By His Guy
For his part, Nash has indicated that Griffin is simply going through a “funk” and that he plans to “stick by him.” But sticking by your guy isn’t about force-feeding him first-team minutes. It’s about putting him in a position to succeed. And keeping Griffin out there with the starters doesn’t seem to be that spot.
If anything, he’s being forced to fail on a nightly basis.
Winning a championship is an all-hands-on-deck proposition, and Griffin has been MIA. Even if it means Aldridge takes a hit in his usage and overall efficacy, bumping him up while Griffin gets himself sorted may be in the best interest of the team in the long-term.