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In-depth analysis of AJ Griffin’s rookie season

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Oklahoma City Thunder Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Editor’s note: This is the first post from new Peachtree Hoops contributor Joe Schmidt. We’re excited to have him on the staff and help with our coverage of the Atlanta Hawks.

In the 2022 NBA draft, the Atlanta Hawks found themselves drawn to Durham, North Carolina once again, where they had previously landed Jalen Johnson. This time, they selected AJ Griffin, who had just completed an impressive season at Duke University. As a freshman, Griffin averaged 10.4 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 1.0 assists per game while shooting a remarkable 44.7 percent from three-point range. It’s worth noting that Griffin has NBA pedigree, as his father Adrian Griffin is a former NBA player and was as of draft day an assistant coach with the Toronto Raptors. Griffin was selected with the 16th overall pick and was one of five Blue Devils chosen in the draft.

Fast forward to the present, Griffin is entering his second NBA season after an outstanding rookie campaign. Meanwhile, his father has since been hired as the head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks. Griffin’s performance, both in terms of the eye-test and efficiency numbers, has been impressive, especially when considering his ranking among his peers. Additionally, Griffin was the third-youngest player in the NBA last season at just 19 years old, adding further excitement for Hawks fans.

Despite limited minutes early in the season, Griffin quickly made an impact. Following the first two games where he racked up two DNP’s, he put on a show during late-game minutes against the Charlotte Hornets. In a little over six minutes, he scored eight points, making two three-pointers, and recording two steals. Griffin’s ability to knock down shots immediately upon entering the game continued past his first game, forcing Nate McMillan to increase his role on the team.

From November to January, Griffin made an impressive 73 three-pointers in just 43 games, shooting at an incredible 40 percent clip. Though his performance slightly dipped after that stretch, he recouped and finished the season as a 39 percent three-point shooter.

Season Averages: 8.9 PTS (46.5 FG%, 39 3FG%), 2.1 REB, 1 AST, 0.6 STL

Per 48 Adjusted: 21.9 PTS, 5.2 REB, 2.5 AST, 1.4 STL

Griffin’s shooting ability has never been in doubt, yet he exceeded expectations in his rookie season. He ranked in the 76th percentile among rotation players in three-point shooting percentage, as well as the 74th percentile in three-pointers made per 75 possessions. These are good numbers, but they become unprecedented when you consider his age. Notably, Griffin ranked in the 49th percentile for catch-and-shoot three-point percentage, despite maintaining a 29th percentile ranking in shot quality. With an established role in Quin Snyder’s offense, it is likely that both categories will improve significantly next season. On the other hand, Griffin excelled in pull-up threes, ranking in the 94th percentile in that category.

While Griffin doesn’t frequently finish at the rim, he excels with a plus-plus floater game. His ability to make floaters ranks in the near 97th percentile, while he maintains remarkable efficiency at the 89th percentile. This level of efficiency in his in-between game is extraordinary for a player of his age. Griffin’s shot making at the rim ranks relatively low (24th percentile) while his field goal percentage at the rim ranks middle of the pack (51st percentile). This is not necessarily a worry, as his preference for his ultra-efficient floater is obvious.

Defensively, there is undoubtedly room for improvement. He has been criticized for having relatively slow feet, often allowing opponents to drive past him. His perimeter isolation defense ranks in the 35th percentile. However, his 6-foot-6 frame and 7-foot wingspan suggest that he has the physical tools to, at the very least, become a decent defensive option.

One aspect of Griffin’s rookie season that is somewhat overlooked was his availability. Coming out of college, many scouts and analysts believed that he would be prone to injuries. He had experienced a dislocated knee during his senior year of high school followed by a minor ankle injury. Adding to that, he suffered another knee injury in a preseason practice at Duke. Knee injuries are notoriously detrimental to a player’s career. However, Griffin defied expectations and was available all 82 games of the season, a remarkable feat in the modern era of the NBA.

Alongside some incredible statistics, Griffin became the first rookie since the 1993–94 season to hit not one, but two game-winning shots.

Coming into Year Two

When reviewing Griffin’s draft profile, Eric Yearian’s assessment of Griffin has proven to be rather accurate thus far. Given what has already been demonstrated, Hawks fans can hope that the following quote from Yearian holds true: “Despite his fantastic skill level, he is a bit unrefined in certain areas, which makes me believe there is room for growth in his game, and he could make a significant leap during his second or third NBA season.” Garnering Nate McMillan’s trust in the rotation is an accolade in itself, as he routinely deferred to veterans as a head coach. As one of the Hawks’ premier shooters entering the season with a head coach who loves the three-point line, Griffin should see an expanded and more consistent role in the rotation. His absence in the playoffs is less of a sign that Snyder doesn’t like him, and more so Griffin was simply very young with an underdeveloped defensive side. It’s not abnormal for rookies to sit behind more experienced players like Hunter, Bey, and Bogdanovic in the playoffs.

Overall, Griffin has already scraped some ceilings that are anomalous for rookies. His two recent Summer League appearances weren’t impressive, but he has plenty of real NBA tape to back up his game. It’s also promising that he was shut down after just two games, implying he is an important piece of the puzzle for Snyder and company this season. Hawks fans need to tread carefully when including his name in mock trades. As we know, Griffin was excluded from both All-Rookie teams. However, if you were to allow a 2022 re-draft, there would not be ten guys taken ahead of him.

All data was collected via BBall Index.