While the Atlanta Hawks finished second in the league with a three-point shooting rate in 2021-22, they still seem unhappy with their ability to stretch the opponent’s defences. The franchise decided to grab the best pure shooter — as well as one of the youngest at the 2022 NBA Draft stadium last June — and add snipers to their inventory.
Widely expected to be a lottery pick in the run-up to the draft, AJ Griffin, son of former NBA player Adrian Griffin, dropped to No. 16 overall due to concerns about his injury history. Griffin has had pain in his right foot and ankle since the end of his college football career, and this injury also caused him to miss the entirety of the game in the Las Vegas summer campaign in Atlanta.
Fast forward to today, the Hawks are advancing toward the 2022-23 season without two of the biggest threats from the previous season in Kevin Huerter and Danilo Gallinari. This makes the health and productivity of Griffin, and similarly ailing Bogdan Bogdanovic, increasingly important to helping the Hawks’ chances of a successful season.
In his only 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, scoring 54.7%, 44.7% and 79.2% two- and three-point marks and free-throw lines for a real shooting percentage of 63.0%. Along with first overall pick Paulo Banchero and fellow recruits Mark Williams, Wendell Moore Jr., and Trevor Kells, the Blue Devils went as a team 32-7 and reached the Final Four.
But Griffin is much more than a one-dimensional shooter that relies on the star power of his teammates. He has great size and tangible ability to bounce off his position, position himself and move off the ball well. Here when he’s at his best, he keeps the attack flowing with his dribbling, dribbling out toward the corner, and then rising to the break area to make way for the defense for a chance of pitfalls. The wide-footed and curvy shooting posture is a bit unusual, but there’s no real reason to believe it wouldn’t be successful at the next level.
Griffin can put the ball on deck when needed, a necessary skill when defenders get too close to the sniper, and he often has the awareness to make the right decision in these situations. One assist per game helps reduce his vision, as shown below in finding the Banchero moved for an easy try.
Even on rare self-creation opportunities, Griffin shows a good ability to descend and finish through contact.
Defensively, Griffin was unfortunately robbed of lateral mobility and range in his college career due to the aforementioned injury history. He was known as a very legitimate two-way player in his high school days, but was very disappointed on the defensive end in his only year at Durham. However, his powerful car is 6’6″, 220 lbs. The frame allows him to fight attempts to deploy or drive through, and he usually has a good drive to play as effortless as the party to start a quick breather below.
Whether or not he is able to recapture the strong wing defense from his high school days will be the biggest future productivity swing skill of his NBA career, in my estimation. As he stands now, he has an awareness of being a team defender who can pass, space the floor on the weak side and pounce on slow passes, but if he is able to defend more difficult headers, he will be a very valuable piece in a league that places increasing importance on the versatile wing.
Griffin will never be a major fulcrum from which to run a great deal of attacking, but his selflessness and team mentality make him a very suitable fit for the role. Conditioning and similarly hard work could restore the defensive reputation of his youth and allow him to guard a winger position or even moonlight as the occasional junior four-ball in the increasingly centerless NBA.
I expect Griffin to start the season out of rotation – with Tyrese Martin’s college experience, health and off-season productivity putting him ahead of the Blue Devil on the wing depth chart. But the hope is that bringing the 19-year-old slowly will pay off in the long run, and Griffin will be able to establish himself as a deadly threat to stretch defenses and open the floor for his Hawks teammates for years to come.