What AJ Griffin brings to the Atlanta Hawks: ‘His best basketball is ahead of him’

It is not an official Duke recruitment policy. But… it doesn’t hurt.

“I say, always take the pro kid. It’s in the genes, man,” says Chris Carwell, assistant technical director. NBA As we recruit the child, take him. In the worst case scenario, his goal would be 1,000 points — and in the best case, you’d get AJ Griffins, Seth Currys, (Mike) Dunleavys.”

This is a noble company that Griffin should keep, especially after he just finished his first and only year in college basketball. (His father, Adrian, Stream Toronto Raptors assistant coach, having played nine seasons in the NBA himself). But you can see where Carrawell came from: Dunleavy Jr. played 15 years in the NBA after being named third in 2002, and Curry eight years into his professional career despite not being there. The lineage is there – and now, after Atlanta Hawks Griffin picked 15th overall in the NBA draft Thursday, so there are similar expectations for success.

The good news? Despite Duke’s fantastic new season, in which he played a key role in The Blue Devils’ progression to the fourth final, there is optimism that the 18-year-old could be more productive at the next level. Even his former coach agrees: “His best basketball is,” says Carwell, “in front of him.”

This feeling exists largely for two reasons. The first is that Griffin, who made 25 appearances for Mike Krzyzewski’s last team, was still coming out of a long hiatus before this season. Ankle and knee injuries sidelined Griffin in the latter half of his middle school season, as well as his senior year. (He ended up spending most of that year in Tampa, where he trained near his father and the Raptors, who had moved out of Toronto due to the COVID-19 pandemic.) Then, at a Duke preseason practice in October, Griffin injured his right knee which prevented him from Join the course in full until December. The point is, it was a long process just to get Griffin into the ballpark.

Once back, Griffin had to find out exactly his role. It wasn’t as a singular star—along with four other draft picks, that wasn’t possible—or overly sized. “He had to play us where shooting him was a weapon,” Carwell says. “So we told him, just be the best shooter in the country.” Griffin was practically; He eventually settled into this shooting role and emerged as one of the best 3-point shooters in the country. He hit 44.7 percent of his 3s—the top 10 marks nationally among top players—in 4.1 attempts per game, and in nearly half of the competitions he’s played (12), he’s hit at least three times. Per Synergy, in spot attempts, Griffin averaged 1,165 points per possession (PPP), which was rated “excellent” and at the 91st percentile nationally.

Obviously a kid could shoot him.

But what else can he do?

This is where opinions differ about the 6-foot-6, 222-pound wing. Optimists in the NBA front desks believe Griffin has a more refined game than he was able to show last season, and that he has the potential to be a top-caliber 3D winger. Jimmy Butler He was Griffin’s favorite player growing up, and comparisons between the two were frequent during the preliminary draft process. Carwell noted the similarity in their physique, adding, “I don’t know if (AJ) understands his body yet.” Case in point: Griffin was so good as a shooter on set and in transition last season that, according to Synergy, those two actions accounted for more than 60 percent of his total offensive property…with no others accounting for even eight percent. This is partly what makes evaluating Griffin difficult. He finished Offensive Ranking No. 17 nationally last season, according to KenPom, and made 54.7 percent of the 2s — but his sample size was pretty small.

“But as those guys see at the next level (when) they come to work,” Carwell says, “he can take off. You get a kid who can shoot, (but also) who will be able to put the ball on the ground and create the shots.”

The concern with Griffin is if these creation skills are not realized. The same goes for the defensive end, where Griffin’s frame suggests one thing and his actual motor skills another. He struggled at times to defend the straights races last season, not looking at the part of the high school athlete he had before the injury. But as one of the younger players in the draft, and someone who hasn’t even walked away a year with serious injuries, Griffin still has room to grow into a good player.

Which means that for now, Griffin’s shooting will be the biggest asset that immediately translates to Atlanta. Then, if his game continues to grow any further?

We can talk about the Griffin years from now as one of this draft’s biggest steals.

(Photo: Kelley L Cox / USA Today)

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