Duke has had some of the best NBA prospects in recent years. We’ve seen guys like Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson light it up and make headlines on their way to becoming some of the most intriguing talents going forward. We’re currently witnessing Jayson Tatum catapult himself to superstardom in front of our very eyes as he looks to lead his Celtics team to a deep playoff run after beating another former Duke star, Kyrie Irving. Shoot, we have two super talented Duke players Knicks fans are extremely excited about on the squad right now. RJ Barrett took a huge step in becoming someone the team and fans can see becoming a star in the next couple years and while Cam Reddish’s role and future with the team may be filled with questions, there is no doubt the amount of talent he has.
This season’s Blue Devils team had on it another group of talented NBA prospects headlined by Paolo Banchero (more about him here). And while there is no doubt that he will be the first Blue Devil taken in the draft, the consensus as of now seems to be that AJ Griffin Jr. will be the second one. Griffin won’t wow anyone with his counting stats. After averaging 10.4 PPG, 3.9 RPG, and 1 APG, anyone who hadn’t paid attention to college basketball or seen him play could dismiss him as an impact prospect. But they’d be very wrong. In his lone season at Duke, Griffin showcased an ability to do a little bit of everything.
But of all the different things he can do, shooting is the one thing that really stands out. Griffin shot 44.7% from the 3 point line last season and it doesn’t seem fluky due to the fact that he also shot 79.2% from the free throw line (usually a good indicator of how good a shooter someone is).
Griffin has a lot of rotation on his shot and would do well as a catch-and-shoot guy in the league as he always seems to be ready to shoot when spotting up. Waiting for your shot as a catch and shoot guy can be hard for a lot of players and it isn’t for everyone. You can find yourself getting out of rhythm for zoning out of the game mentally but he showed that he is not only capable of this but is very good in this role. Griffin was utilized as a spot up shooter in 46.2% of his possessions at Duke and often found himself camping out in the corners to create space for his teammates. His comfort and effectiveness in this role should do wonders in earning himself playing time early on.
The freshman forward isn’t just a stand-still spot-up shooter either. College basketball fans got to see Griffin make threes in transition, on the move and even some step back threes, albeit to a lesser degree. His form is very compact and regardless of the type of shot he is taking, he tends to be very consistent and balanced on his shots, which could lead to him becoming a good shooter on the move or off the dribble as well.
He’s most likely become very good at being on balance due to his body control and his physique, another thing that has scouts excited. The 6’6” guard was listed at 222lbs in college and he looked like it. Unlike some freshmen, Griffin had an NBA-ready body from day one and utilized it very well on both sides of the ball. When he wasn’t spotting up, Griffin often strung together dribble moves to get by his defender and even if they stayed with him, he often did a good job of initiating the contact and finishing through it. He’s by no means an elite finisher, but his strength and body control, combined with his above average athleticism made him a good finisher, even in traffic.
Griffin’s upside is not only linked to his potential as a three-level scorer, but also because of his defense. Griffin can guard multiple positions because of his size and athleticism. While he may not have top tier quickness, he should be athletic and quick enough to defend most guards and his ridiculous 7’ wingspan and aforementioned strength should help him defend a lot of bigger players as well. The good news for whoever drafts Griffin is that it isn’t just the physical tools either. Over the course of his freshman season, Griffin seemed to really take pride in defending. Seeing a player that not only is capable of defending but enjoys it should be something to take note of, especially today, where so much of the game revolves around offense.
But like any other prospect, there are concerns surrounding Griffin and his weaknesses. The biggest one being his injury history. Griffin has dealt with a dislocated knee and multiple knee sprains among other things and whenever you are deciding who to pick in the lottery, these things can definitely raise a red flag. Those who watched Griffin at Duke also saw him disappear and had some lackluster games at times, most notably his last game against UNC. He sometimes seemed to struggle with staying aggressive and finding a way to impact the game on the offensive end when he wasn’t getting spot up attempts. Duke had a lot of talented players which led to easier looks for him thus benefitting him but the overabundance of talented offensive players forced him out of picture at times as well. The one argument is that he was asked to play in the system and an uptick in usage and an increased role could lead to him showcasing more than what he was able to at Duke. Players can often work on their skillset, but changing a player’s mentality and or aggressiveness can be difficult so seeing how engaged he can stay on the offensive end will be something to keep an eye on when in the league.
AJ Griffin (& Shaedon Sharpe) might not be the best prospect in the 2022 class but he might be the most interesting bc I can definitely see him get the Devin Booker usage bump compared to what his college team asked him to do. Duke just didn’t need him to do stuff like this often pic.twitter.com/0KO5xaoIp8— Shervon Fakhimi (@ShervonFakhimi) May 7, 2022
Aside from the injuries, and aggressiveness, Griffin has a few other weaknesses. Despite being able to drive to the rim in college, he still lacks a great handle and while he is somewhat quick, he doesn’t seem to have the most elite first step. There were times when Griffin would drive side to side instead of playing north to south, which lead to tough shots or an inability to get past his defender. When going against some of the best athletes and defenders in the world, this may hinder him and limit his ability to truly become an all-around scorer who can consistently get his own shots.
Overall, despite his weaknesses and concerns, Griffin is already a solid player with a pretty high floor. He is a prospect that can come in and contribute to an NBA team immediately due to his ability to space the floor and defend multiple positions. He could slot in and be a mix of a Robert Covington and Sadiq Bey. But unlike some other role players with the ability to defend and shoot, Griffin has the physical tool and potential to be even more than that. If he can stay healthy and work on his handles, he absolutely has the potential to be more than just a 3 and D role player. If the Knicks were to take him, they’d get a guy that can create more space for Julius Randle (assuming he stays) and RJ Barrett, while providing Tom Thibodeau with some wing depth and a very good wing defender to pair with Barrett and Reddish. The Knicks already have multiple Duke players, will they add another by bringing in Griffin, a White Plains native?