AJ Griffin, still only 19 years old, commenced his NBA career with a respectable rookie season. He averaged 8.9 points, 2.1 rebounds, and 1.0 assists on 46.5% shooting from the field and 39% from three. Nate McMillan and later, Quin Snyder, both utilized him a solid amount at the shooting guard and small forward positions, as he averaged nearly 20 minutes a game for the Hawks while starting in twelve contests. Another telling indicator of his first-year success was in the All-Rookie voting, where Griffin received 26 points despite not making either of the teams.
There are still plenty of questions surrounding AJ Griffin’s game, but he projects to be an important part of the Hawks rotation this year. His primary NBA skill, as his percentages would suggest, is shooting with efficiency — a skill that the Hawks rely on heavily in the second unit, especially considering Bogdan Bogdanovic’s injury history. However, there are still several things that Griffin needs to work on to be considered an integral part of the rotation.
Defensively, he is merely average at this point in time. Standing at 6’6”, he has the build to defend up and down positions, but he still lacks some of the size required to stop defenders in their tracks. He wasn’t given many opportunities to defend on-ball, as the coaching staff frequently would hide him on the corner man. That being said, he does show some decent instincts as an off-ball defender. And if he puts on some weight his defense could be a growth skill for him where he can make a difference. There’s really nothing egregious in the film below, but you can see where he can just get a little bit better.
First on defense, Griffin will need more reps in space on that side of the ball, but his strength within his built frame already allows him to hold up well in the post and get a good contest here on Patrick Williams. pic.twitter.com/x2yaDbyoWE— Wes / bloghawk.bsky.social (@bloghawk) October 21, 2023
Here, he's hugging Derrick Jones Jr (a 33% career shooter from the corner) too tightly.— Wes / bloghawk.bsky.social (@bloghawk) October 21, 2023
In Snyder's more aggressive scheme, he'll want Griffin to have a foot in the paint even before DeRozan backdoor cuts Hunter to be in better position to help at the rim. pic.twitter.com/s7SqiLZr4D
Again as the low man, his processing is a touch slow, and he can't stay vertical or properly target the ball in rim protection. pic.twitter.com/V7iqjAp7gV— Wes / bloghawk.bsky.social (@bloghawk) October 21, 2023
Offensively, the shooting is there. He navigates screens well, and already has been asked to do that as a rookie. He is a great catch-and-shoot guy, but hasn’t exactly flexed his shooting off the bounce though he’s shown flashes of it being there. If he can find a way to expand his game and put pressure on the rim more, he can definitely excel on the offensive side of the ball.
The good is that on offense, he's already one of the most efficient three-level NBA scorers we've seen under the age of 20.— Wes / bloghawk.bsky.social (@bloghawk) October 21, 2023
He's very good at creating space coming off screens for curls and has Joe Johnson-like touch on his iso midrangers. pic.twitter.com/mMuRF88u4T
What makes him an elite catch-and-shoot guy already is his bag when he's crowded. He can comfortably sidestep or step back and get into his shooting pocket even against hard closeouts. pic.twitter.com/TVl81GCm8Z— Wes / bloghawk.bsky.social (@bloghawk) October 21, 2023
It is this writer’s belief that AJ Griffin has all of the tools to really contribute on this year’s Hawks team. He’s probably going to be the 8th man on the roster, coming in behind Bogdanovic and Jalen Johnson (or Saddiq Bey), but he has the opportunity to be a lethal bench scorer. If his defensive game at the point of attack can improve where they don’t have to hide him in the corner, that would open up a lot of lineup options in the second unit for the Hawks.
There’s a reason why Hawks fans are high on Griffin after his rookie season. His fit alongside guys like Trae Young and Dejounte Murray is evident as he is a fantastic spot-up shooter for them to release to when they pressure the rim. Offensively, his upside is tantalizing, especially if he can learn to score more effectively inside the 3-point arc. The Griffin, Johnson, Okongwu minutes with the second unit will be a lot of fun to watch, as that trio has the ability to play great complimentary basketball. Indeed, there’s a high likelihood that due to matchups or injuries, we could see that 3-man lineup rack up a lot of minutes by season’s end. Hawks fans are praying to the heavens for a career full of plays like this one for AJ Griffin in a Hawks jersey.