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Why the Knicks’ interest in AJ Griffin makes sense, and why it doesn’t

To Duke, or not to Duke?

Atlanta Hawks v New York Knicks Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images

The Knicks’ being in the market for some bench help in the form of an additional ball handler and shot creator has been well-documented since pretty much the minute that the OG Anunoby trade went down, which has led to a flurry of rumors surrounding the Knicks’ interest in guys like Dejounte Murray, Jordan Clarkson, Colin Sexton, Malcolm Brogdon, and Bruce Brown. But due to the Knicks’ success since the aforementioned trade, the front office has been incredibly patient in addressing their need for some more depth, which has led to some questioning if Leon Rose & Co. would still pull the trigger on one of those bigger names. While it remains very likely that they do, there’s also a chance that the front office continues its trend of making surprising-yet-effective low-key moves. Enter AJ Griffin.

The 2022 first-round pick was a highly touted prospect coming out of high school, but a few knee injuries led to his stock dropping ahead of the draft. That said, the former Duke Blue Devil still put together a very solid season, averaging 8.9 points, 2.1 rebounds, and one assist per game while shooting 46.5% from the field and 39% from three in just 19.5 MPG. Extrapolate that out to 36 minutes, and you get averages of 16.4 points per 36, 3.9 rebounds per 36, and 1.9 assists per 36. He was by no means elite or a star, but he definitely showed some really nice flashes and was overall a productive rookie.

The same cannot be said about Griffin’s sophomore season. He has fallen out of the rotation, appearing in just 16 games and averaging only 8.1 MPG. Overall, he is just putting up 2.3 PPG on 31% shooting from the field, and 29% shooting from three. Those are all admittedly very tough numbers to swallow, but his lack of playing time has led to his value decreasing and there’s a chance that he could be had for relatively cheap. If the Knicks can acquire him without giving up much, there’s a chance that he could help fill some holes off the bench, at least until they get a more seasoned, veteran player to help in their playoff push.

Now, if you are wondering how a player posting those kinds of numbers could be of any assistance to a team amid an intense seeding battle, I do not blame you. He can’t crack the rotation on a team worse than the Knicks, he is struggling mightily from the field, he isn’t a great defender, and he isn’t necessarily the kind of player the team needs. However, there are reasons why going after him might make sense.

First off, there is an upside there. Griffin might be having a bad season, but he is just 20 years old, and he’s proven that with playing time, he can be a very solid player. Secondly, while he is known as a shooter, the numbers from last season suggest that he is, at the very least, a capable scorer off the dribble, which is something that the Knicks lack in their second unit. Last season, Griffin averaged just 0.2 isolation plays per game, which is an insanely small sample size, but he did put up 1.06 points per possession in those plays, which ranks him higher than Steph Curry, Immanuel Quickley, Jimmy Butler, Jordan Clarkson, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam, Jamal Murray, Domantas Sabonis, Julius Randle, RJ Barrett, Malcolm Brogdon, and Nikola Jokic. And in those isolation plays, Griffin posted an effective field goal percentage of 54.5%, which was the same as Jalen Brunson’s and De’Aaron Fox’s effective field goals on isolations last season, and higher than Donovan Mitchell’s, Kyrie Irving’s, and Joel Embiid’s.

The positive trends don’t end there. As the ball handler in pick-and-roll situations last season, Griffin averaged 0.94 points per possession and an effective field goal of 52.3%, which aren’t elite numbers but still better than Zach LaVine, Tyler Herro, Ja Morant, Franz Wagner, Anthony Edwards, James Harden, and LeBron James. Also, out of the 149 players to score at least 100 points off of pull-ups last season, Griffin ranked sixth in the league in pullup field goal percentage, signaling his ability to make shots off the dribble. Supporting that is also the fact that Griffin had an effective field goal percentage of 64.3% off of two dribbles. Griffin also had a respectable effective field goal percentage of 46.9% with four seconds or less left in the shot clock, which could be a sign that he’s capable of creating something out of nothing. And top it all off, 44.2% of Griffin’s two-pointers came unassisted, and 10.9% of his three-pointers came unassisted, both of which are higher percentages than those of Donte DiVincenzo, Quentin Grimes, Josh Hart, and OG Anunoby.

Now, so far, everything seems dandy, right? These numbers sound great and he’d give Tom Thibodeau some much-needed ball handling and shot creation with some decent size while giving the front office another young asset with upside. But there are also numerous reasons why he doesn’t make sense on the Knicks.

Despite the interesting numbers, he’s not a better player than any of the names I compared him to, and he’s not better than any of the more prominent targets the Knicks have been linked to—not even close to it. Plus, he’s had an incredibly small sample size, is usually going up against opposing teams’ second units, rarely draws very hard matchups, and has had very limited responsibilities on offense, making the numbers we looked at iffy at best. Griffin is also still very prone to making mistakes on defense, which is something that could quickly get him on Thibs’ “do-not-play” list. And Griffin, as mentioned earlier, is just 20 years old, which sounds like a pro-age, but is clearly known that a young figure is often seen as a con when it comes to Thibodeau-lead teams.

With that being known, giving up assets for a player that is likely to suffer the same or similar fates as Quickley, Grimes, and the notorious Cam Reddish and Obi Toppin, moving for AJ seems like a foolish idea.

I do think there is a path for the Knicks to get and utilize Griffin. He’s by no means the solution to the third ball-handler and shot-creator problem, but if the Knicks can acquire without giving up much, he could be a realistic and solid option to fill in for Grimes were he to be traded away like many are speculating. He’s nowhere near the defender that Grimes is and will likely never get there but his outside shooting to go along with his potential as a shot creator going forward could make for an interesting addition.