The 2022 NBA draft has come and gone, and the Hawks have their newest members in tow. On Thursday, the Hawks selected Duke wing AJ Griffin and Connecticut wing Tyrese Martin. But depending on the moves the Hawks make in free agency, it could take some time before the two make their NBA debuts.
The Hawks have at least seven players on expiring standard contracts. They also need to decide on two players who were on two-way deals last season. So should the Hawks re-sign some of their unrestricted free agents or bring new ones aboard, carving out playing time for the two rookies could be difficult.
So, when it comes to Griffin, who will turn 19 in August, developing him within the Hawks’ system likely will be a focus.
“We’ll see,” Hawks general manager Landry Fields said. “He’s definitely young. He’s had a great physical body; he can definitely shoot the ball, and he takes pride on the defensive end. So, we’ll see.
“Right now, for where we have him at, he’s still got some development to do as most rookies do, and we’ll bring him along as always, and so we’ll see in time.”
That means Griffin likely will get much of his minutes with the Hawks’ G League affiliate, the College Park Skyhawks, to get his reps in.
The 18-year-old finished his freshman season at Duke averaging 10.4 points, 3.9 rebounds and one assist per game. He made 49.3% of his shots from the field and knocked down 44.7% of his 3-pointers on 4.1 attempts per game, earning ACC All-Rookie team honors.
That consistency from 3-point range helped the Blue Devils to a 32-7 record and a trip to the Final Four. His reliability as a shooter also opened up the floor for his teammates as defenders homed in on him. He does have a few moves in his arsenal that allows him to get free of defenders and get to the basket when the 3-point line isn’t an option for him.
He was a solid off-the-ball defender and can make some good reads to close off his man, leaving the opposing ballhandler with fewer options. He also is a tenacious player who fights through screens to stick with his man and get back in front of him.
It’s some of those characteristics that made the Hawks front office feel confident that Griffin could fit in the team’s locker room.
“We’re very excited about what he can bring, from his versatility to everything from a personality standpoint,” Fields said Thursday. “We couldn’t be happier about having him. We’re really glad.”
But with youth comes inexperience, and the Hawks understand that Griffin will have a learning curve when it comes to making it in the league.
Though Griffin has shown some promise as a shooter, the Hawks will aim to add some versatility to his game.
A White Plains, N.Y., native. Griffin made 54.7% of his 2-pointers but attempted only 3.5 per game. Fields called Griffin’s ballhandling an underrated part of his game. So the Hawks would like Griffin to tap into that facet of his game to add another layer to his playmaking.
“His ability to put the ball on the floor and make plays for himself,” Fields said. “You didn’t see that a lot at Duke, but throughout the pre-draft process, watching him in his pro day, going back and seeing some of the flashes when he was at Duke, that’s there. So if he can continue to develop that, he really opens up an arsenal for versatility for himself and for what we can do with our team.”
Also, scouts have noted that Griffin isn’t the quickest player when it comes to defending smaller and faster guards. They noted he often plants his feet and keeps his hips square, which leaves him with little time to recover as opponents blow by him.
“When the defense comes along and utilizes that body and the wingspan, the sky’s the limit for that kid,” Fields said.
Griffin is well under the impression of what he has to do to earn playing time with this team though. Shortly after hearing his name Thursday, he could not contain his excitement and readiness to get to work.
He comes from a basketball family, and his father gave him some advice that already he has internalized. Griffin’s father, Adrian, played 10 seasons in the NBA after going undrafted out of Seton Hall. The elder Griffin currently is an assistant coach for the Raptors.
“Yeah, he gave me great advice,” the now former Blue Devil said. “Just situations where, he’s been in, he’s given me advice. And he went undrafted, and so he’s just telling me it’s just about what you do after and how much work you put in after. He says, (it’s) hard enough getting here, but to stay here, you gotta put in that work again, and just to stay hungry, and he gives me all the great tips on how to be a pro on and off the court.”
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