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James Harden and Steve Nash foresee Blake Griffin’s potential after promising debut

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Washington Wizards v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Sunday was a successful debut for Blake Griffin as he logged 15 minutes — apparently his minutes restriction — and his two points came off a reunion with the rim on a take-off dunk. Even though only two points appear on the stat sheet, it did not take long for Griffin to make an impact off of it.

Following a loud ovation from the limited Barclays Center crowd, The 32-year-old perfected a screen assist to open up Landry Shamet in the corner for a three.

“It was great to just be back out there and get a better rhythm going was great. It’s tough to recreate an actual game atmosphere so to get out there felt good,” Griffin said. “I felt like it was a good start but got some room to improve obviously.”

While Griffin electrified the Barclays Center crowd with his first dunk since December 2019, it was followed by a glaring smile on the way down the court and shades of the infamous Brooklyn bench mob, with all manner of towel-waving and dancing.

Washington Wizards v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

The dunk was somewhere between poetic and majestic but his biggest impact came on the defensive end and playmaking, his most underrated skill. He did not look new to the Nets who played with or against him in the past.

From blocking the league’s leading scorer, Bradley Beal, to holding his ground on switches, James Harden already envisions Griffin as a powerful tool once Brooklyn gets him comfortable with their sets and schemes. It was a good debut in Harden’s eyes.

“First game, he looked comfortable,” Harden said. “We tried to get him shots and get him involved. I think for his first game and learning on the fly without really any practice time, he did a good job. Blake is going to be very key for us. He’s versatile, creates mismatches problems, and he’s a very, very good passer,” Harden said. “Once we actually find sets that can incorporate him and that he can look for consistently and be prepared for, we will be that much better.”

Harden wasn’t the only one envisioning Griffin’s potential with Brooklyn. It was a great performance in Steve Nash’s eyes as well. The Nets head coach sees the value in his newest veteran.

“I thought Blake was great. I don’t think he stuffed the stat sheet just his experience and intelligence. He made winning plays. In 15 minutes, he was a +12 so, I thought Blake was great,” Nash said. “You can see how he can help us.”

But that won’t come quickly as the Nets will continue down the road of patience with Griffin. Nash and the Nets do not have anything settled when it comes to Griffin’s adaptation to the newest chapter of his career. He wants to remain cautious and see what his role and fit will be down the line.

“I think we just want to take it slow,” Nash said. “I don’t want to overburden him. I want to make sure he can slowly improve throughout the rest of the season. I don’t have anything set in stone but I think we want to be cautious and make sure we don’t have any setbacks or overburden him so he doesn’t have a setback. Just going to work through this and ease him back into more minutes, ease him into the team, see what his role becomes, and how he fits.”

Griffin is on the same page, noting how his instant impact demand is not high. While watching the Nets from the sidelines over the past two weeks, Griffin got a sampling of how he can fit and after his debut, he explained how it will be a process.

“Yes and no. From the sidelines, you get a pretty good idea. Tonight, I don’t think I put a ton just into tonight just because every game is so different,” Griffin said. “Every team has a different defensive scheme. It will just be a process where I feel it out. I think over the next five games or so and however long it takes. I hope to get into that rhythm sooner rather than later obviously.”

Detroit Pistons v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

With one game under his belt, Nash believes Griffin has the ability to play with different lineups - which he showed light on Sunday night. Nash, In particular, the 32-year-old showed promise playing alongside 21-year-old Nicolas Claxton in the frontcourt. The Wizards were the first team to get a preview of the versatile yet lengthy duo down low, battling around screens adding yet another unique element to the Nets offensive arsenal.

“It’s early but Blake’s an intelligent player. He can space the floor. You have to guard him at three. He’s a good playmaker with the ball so he can play off of Nic [Claxton] rolling or he can be the guy rolling or playmaking,” Nash said. “He’s a versatile player. An intelligent player that brings experience to our team so hopefully he can play in multiple lineups.”

Griffin told reporters that he has had short conversations on lineups and frontcourt groupings but nothing dense. His main focus was to get back under the bright lights. Griffin said he’s comfortable playing the small-ball 5 or 4 - the two positions where he saw minutes in his debut.

“We’ve had conversations but not extended length,” said Griffin. “I know played some four and then some small-ball five at times. Nic and DeAndre [Jordan] have done such a great job and it’s hard to have them off the court. I’m comfortable doing both so as we go along, I’m sure I’ll have more conversations with Steve about that. My main focus has been getting to this point and just being ready to get on the court.”

Griffin’s fullest impact and the specific role will likely not be set till the playoffs come around. His minutes will rise progressively based on the voices coming out of the performance team. Griffin is ready to play more minutes. Indeed, the six-time NBA All-Star expects to be having that conversation with Nash and the coaching staff before Tuesday’s game in Portland. Previously, he simply had his mindset on returning to the hardwood.

“I’m not exactly sure. I’m sure I’ll have that conversation before the next game but as of now, my focus was just today.

“I think I can play more than 15 for sure,” Griffin said. “I think we are just being very smart about it when there is no need to come in and play 30 right away. I thought the performance staff has done a great job so far. I’m following their lead on this. Whatever they say, hopefully I can play a little more soon but I understand the importance of listening to them and being ready when we really need it.”

Although Griffin was not asked whether he has a preference of starting or coming off the bench. He joins a team as a role player on a contender. Nash did not turn aside the idea of him starting. If he does remain off the bench, Griffin will be a unique tool. Not many teams have the luxury of a player of his caliber fill that role let alone in Nets history.

“Anything’s possible,” Nash said. “We’ve played a lot of different guys, a lot of different starters, a lot of different rotations and matchups. It’s all possible but I think here, we just want to make sure he is physically able to adapt to playing again safely and that he can be incorporated into our team as effectively and efficiently as possible.”

Of course, his addition was also a league wake-up call in that it showed the Nets are still looking for top-flight talent whether in trades or buyouts.