Our 2022 NBA Draft scouting report series continues with a look at AJ Griffin, a forward prospect out of Duke.
AJ Griffin is a fascinating overall evaluation even if teams may end up primarily having a fear of over-drafting the young forward. He enters the 2022 NBA draft class the son of a prominent NBA assistance coach (Adrian Griffin), a previous contender for the best prospect in his class before losing time in high school to injuries, and one of the best three-point shooters in the college ranks last season.
In addition to all of that, he doesn’t turn 19 until August and already measures at 6’6 (6”10 wingspan) and 200 pounds. He already has the NBA body but isn’t well developed on the defensive end of the court and doesn’t yet have a diverse set of skills to put to use offensively.
It’s a bit unusual to see a young prospect that is so advanced in a couple of areas while still being so raw in many other areas.
The shooting is the skill that separates him from almost every other player in the class. He converted nearly 45% of his 159 attempts from the perimeter during his single season at Duke. The motion is pristine even if the release point is a little lower than you’d like considering his frame. There is really no reason he won’t be able to spend significant time at the next level spotting up in the weak side corner and doing all of the things he will need to do to be successful in that role.
Some have voiced concern that Griffin may not be dynamic enough attacking close outs but his best current NBA skill is likely his ability to use a dribble or two to relocate still behind the three-point line as to generate a high percentage shot.
When fully chased off the line, he is currently a bit of a straight line driver with a limited handle and a deliberate decision making process. His play in this area is a fair concern. What NBA teams will have to sort out is how much of that can be addressed with an NBA development program and all of the repetitions that come with it.
Griffin is a long way from being able to reliably run a pick and roll or execute in the dribble-handoff. He admits that in high school and AAU environments that he was mostly interested in dribbling into his elite step back jumper. By all appearances, his ball handling and decision making suffered as a result. But, this is player who will spend his entire rookie season at 19 years of age.
I see two prerequisites for him at the next level if his potential is to be maximized. First, he needs to be part of an NBA organization that excels in player development. Next, he needs to play in an offensive system that is more prescriptive than organic, Memphis being a good example. Otherwise, he will likely need a role that has him starting nearly all possessions in a spot up role.
Considering that he moves well off the basketball, both in lift/shake action and as a cutter, he should reliably be able to progress as a trustworthy performer in the role.
Defensively, he has a lot of improvement that is needed. And the more limited his future offensive role will be the more important it will be for him to significantly advance on that end of the court.
It’s hard to know how much of his defensive limitations map back to the injuries. But he’s currently an unimpressive lateral athlete that significantly struggles to keep ball handlers in front.
Possessing a naturally low and wide stance, he, in a way, looks ready to sit and slide as a defender. But his first step in either direction is slow and long. His stance may be too wide at this point or he may just be playing more flatfooted than it appears.
Griffin demonstrates that he knows how to put his body and strength to work in the post, where he holds up much more successfully as a defender. For this reason, he may project more as a power forward at the NBA level and may pair best playing with another forward that profiles defending on ball reliably.
He can get lost at times defending off ball, losing cutters and not tracking screens coming in his direction. He will need to demonstrate an ability to be trusted as a team defender as to get a real opportunity at the next level. But the caveat here is the same as it is in all other areas. He’s so young and inexperienced.
Griffin is mostly being mocked toward the end of the lottery at this point, but he may have a draft range that is as hard to pin down as for any player in the class. Teams may trust his ability to take coaching considering he’s been coached by an NBA coach his entire basketball life. And that may help him get drafted earlier than he otherwise might be selected.