While the Atlanta Hawks were second in the league in three-point shooting average in 2021-22, it seems that they still were dissatisfied with their ability to stretch opposing defenses. The franchise decided to grab the best pure shooter — as well as one of the youngest players in the 2022 NBA Draft field this past June — and add to their stash of snipers.
Widely projected as a lottery pick in the lead up to the draft, AJ Griffin, the son of former NBA player Adrian Griffin, fell to No. 16 overall in part due to worries about his injury history. Griffin has been experiencing right foot and ankle discomfort ever since the end of his college basketball career, and this injury also caused him to miss the entirety of game action of Atlanta’s Las Vegas Summer League campaign.
Fast forwarding to today, the Hawks are advancing toward the 2022-23 season without two of their top perimeter threats from the previous season in Kevin Huerter and Danilo Gallinari. This makes the health and productivity of Griffin, and the similarly ailing Bogdan Bogdanovic, increasingly important toward aiding the Hawks’ chances at a successful season.
In his lone season at Duke, Griffin averaged 10.4 points, 3.9 rebounds and 1.0 assists in 24 minutes of play per game. Most impressive were his shooting splits, registering 54.7%, 44.7% and 79.2% marks from the two-point, three-point, and free throw line areas for a blistering 63.0% true shooting percentage. Alongside first overall pick Paolo Banchero and fellow draftees Mark Williams, Wendell Moore Jr., and Trevor Keels, the Blue Devils as a team went 32-7 and reached yet another Final Four.
But Griffin is much more than a one dimensional shooter reliant on the star power of his teammates. He possesses considerable size and tangible ability off the bounce for his position, and positions himself and moves off the ball well offensively. Here is when he is at his best, keeping the offense flowing with his dribble, exiting toward the corner, then lifting to the break to space the defense for a rhythm catch-and-shoot opportunity. The wide and staggered foot shooting stance is a bit unusual, but there’s really no reason to think it can’t be successful at the next level.
Griffin can put the ball on the deck when needed, a necessary skill for when defenders close out hard on the sharpshooter, and often has the awareness to make the right decision in these situations. The one assist per game undersells his vision, as seen below in finding the relocating Banchero for an easy attempt.
Even in rare self-creation opportunities, Griffin shows a decent ability to get downhill and finish through contact.
Defensively, Griffin has unfortunately been robbed of lateral mobility and range in his college career due to his aforementioned injury history. He was known as a very legitimate two-way player in his high school days, but disappointed greatly on the defensive end in his one-and-done year in Durham. However, his strong 6’6”, 220 lbs. frame allows him to combat attempts to post him up or drive through him, and he usually has a good motor for effort plays like the tip out to start a fast break below.
Whether or not he can recapture the strong wing defense from his high school days will be the biggest swing skill of future productivity in his NBA career, in my estimation. As it stands now, he has the awareness to be a passable team defender, spacing the floor on the weak side and pouncing on lazy passes, but should he be able to defend more difficult head up matchups, he’ll be an extremely valuable piece in a league that steadily places more and more importance in versatile wings.
Griffin will never be a major fulcrum through which to run a high volume of offense, but his unselfishness and team mentality makes him a great fit for this role. Conditioning and hard work can similarly regain the defensive reputation of his youth and allow him to guard either wing position or even moonlight as a small ball four on occasion in an increasingly positionless NBA.
My expectation is that Griffin begins the season out of the rotation — with the college experience, health, and offseason productivity of Tyrese Martin putting him ahead of the Blue Devil on the wing depth chart. But the hope is that bringing the 19-year-old along slowly will pay dividends in the long run, and Griffin will be able to cement himself as a lethal threat to stretch defenses and open the floor for his Hawks teammates for years to come.