A sharp-shooting forward still hoping for his body to be well enough to play his best basketball, AJ Griffin will look to reach that higher level with the Atlanta Hawks.
The 6-6 Griffin, a starter from January on when Duke won the ACC regular-season championship and reached the Final Four, was selected No. 16 overall by Atlanta in the NBA draft’s first round on Thursday night.
Son of Toronto Raptors assistant coach Adrian Griffin, the younger Griffin averaged 10.4 points while making 44.7% of his 3-pointers and 49.3% of his shots overall as a freshman for the Blue Devils last season. After recovering from a sprained knee suffered during an October practice, Griffin played in all 39 Duke games, starting the final 25.
NBA scouts noted Griffin’s health issues, which also included ankle and knee injuries which limited him to 12 games over his final two high school seasons. Still, his shooting ability and solid 222-pound frame made him too intriguing a prospect for him to fall far in the first round.
Though he played in every Duke game last season, Griffin’s wasn’t a main contributor until late December. He played just six minutes in Duke’s 84-81 win over Gonzaga on Nov 26 and two minutes four nights later when the Blue Devils lost 71-66 at Ohio State.
But starting with Duke’s 76-65 ACC win over Virginia Tech on Dec. 22, Griffin played no fewer than 22 minutes in any game the rest of the season. He moved into the starting lineup for good on Jan. 12 when Duke won 76-64 at Wake Forest.
Griffin turned in a spectacular performance when Duke won 87-67 at North Carolina on Feb. 5, scoring 27 points on 11 of 17 shooting (including 3 of 6 on 3-pointers) in 31 minutes.
He scored 18 points on 7 of 9 shooting when Duke beat Arkansas, 78-69, in the NCAA tournament’s West region final. But he ended his college career making 1 of 7 shots from the field and scoring six points when the Blue Devils lost 91-87 to UNC in the national semifinals.
Those last two games displayed Griffin’s great promise and the room for growth still present in his game. As one of the youngest players in the draft — he won’t turn 19 until Aug. 25 — Griffin has time to for that growth.