The Detroit Pistons have good odds in the NBA Draft Lottery. The team’s 23-59 record led to a bottom-three finish in the league standings. The Pistons have a 40.1 percent chance of remaining in the top three and a 52 percent chance of landing in the top four in the lottery.
A top-three pick guarantees GM Troy Weaver one of the three big men who headline the draft class: Chet Holmgren, Jabari Smith and Paolo Banchero. If Detroit falls out of the top three, the likes of Keegan Murray and Jaden Ivey will certainly be on the radar. At picks four or five, Duke forward AJ Griffin should get a lot of consideration as well.
Griffin suffered a knee injury before the start of the 2021-22 college season. The 18-year-old returned for Duke’s season opener against Kentucky, but he did not find his footing until a few games into the season, and he did not crack the starting lineup until mid-January. The 6-6, 222-pound wing played a key role for the Blue Devils while flashing the athleticism he possessed before his injury.
If Griffin can recover more of the athleticism he lost due to his knee injury, he would have much more upside. Even if he does not recover all of his pre-knee injury athleticism, Griffin is still a high-floor prospect who fills a lot of holes for the Pistons offensively.
AJ Griffin is a versatile offensive player
Knockdown three-point shooting
Griffin was phenomenal from beyond the arc for Duke last season. The 18-year-old shot 44.7 percent on 4.2 three-point attempts per game. He has a wide shooting base, but his mechanics are fluid with a high release point.
Griffin was heavily utilized along the perimeter in Duke’s offense. He was used in dribble hand-offs and running off screens. But, most of his attempts came off simple catch-and-shoot opportunities. Griffin does a great job of repositioning himself along the perimeter. He consistently moves off-ball to get open looks from beyond the arc.
Griffin can always hang his hat on three-point shooting, even the rest of his offensive game does not translate to the NBA level. His off-ball movement and consistent shooting will bring value to any team that drafts him.
Self-creation and finishing upside
Griffin was pigeonholed into a three-point shooting role during his time at Duke. He only attempted 3.5 two-pointers per game in his freshman season. Banchero’s ball dominance left fewer opportunities for Griffin, especially coming off an injury. While his opportunities were limited in Duke’s offense, the 18-year-old still managed to flash potential as a self-creator.
He has a decent handle, although it could still be tighter. He can be indecisive with the ball in his hands and he clearly lacked explosiveness which could be a result of his injury. Despite his limitations with quick-twitch athleticism, Griffin still managed to get good looks at the basket.
With the ball in his hands, Griffin is able to generate space to get good perimeter shots up. He uses a lot of hesitation moves and stepbacks to create space, often moving to his left. The freshman attacks closeouts and has an efficient mid-range pullup. What he lacks in an explosive first step, he makes up for with his fluid ball-handling and size. He can muscle his way to the basket on drives and has a soft touch at the rim.
Much like his self-creation, Griffin’s playmaking was not shown much at Duke, but the 18-year-old is an underrated passer. Griffin consistently makes the right reads. He makes good dump-off passes to bigs in the paint, and he makes great kick-out passes when his driving lane is cut-off.
AJ Griffin needs a lot of improvement defensively
Griffin does not possess a lot of lateral quickness. As a result, the 18-year-old gave up a lot as an on-ball defender, especially along the perimeter. In isolation, Griffin will get burned. Opponents are able to easily turn the corner on him and he gives up a lot of driving lanes.
While he struggles on the perimeter, Griffin is a stout defender in the paint. Griffin uses his 222-pound frame and 7-0 wingspan to hold his own in the post. He does a good job rotating as a help defender and giving opponents difficult looks at the rim.
Griffin consistently gets good positioning as an off-ball defender. He cuts off the passing lane to his mark and is positioned to rotate as a help defender. However, that is where the positives end for Griffin’s off-ball defense.
While he gets good initial positioning on defense, Griffin lacks the defensive awareness to be an impactful off-ball defender. The 18-year-old is often caught ball watching which left backdoor cuts wide open.
Despite his struggles on the defensive end of the court, Griffin is not a lost cause. He has the tools to be at least a neutral defender. Early in his career, coaches will want to hide him as an interior defender. A summer to recover from his knee injury should help him regain some lateral quickness. Improving his footwork should help his on-ball perimeter defense as well. He is unlikely to become a dominant perimeter defender, but if he puts in the work, he can become serviceable at the very least. Working on focus and not ball watching will go a long way toward improving Griffin’s off-ball defense.
Griffin’s fit in Detroit
If the Pistons fall in the draft lottery and select Griffin, the team’s three-point shooting would immediately be upgraded. Detroit ranked 29th in the NBA in three-point shooting percentage and 26th in three-pointers made. Only three players shot above 36 percent from beyond the arc for Detroit this past season.
As he adjusts to the NBA game and hopefully recovers some of his burst, Griffin can lean on his shooting from beyond the arc early in his career. The prospect would immediately be one of the better shooters on the Pistons’ roster. His off-ball movement and superb catch-and-shoot ability would make him a great kick-out option for Cade Cunningham. If the rest of his offensive game develops, Griffin could be a versatile wing player with borderline All-Star potential.
Defensively, Griffin will be a liability for any team early in his career. He has the tools to grow and with the right coaching can be at the very least a neutral defender.
The Jerami Grant question
If AJ Griffin is the pick at four or five, the Pistons likely hold off on moving on from Jerami Grant. Drafting one of the three headlining big men would all but guarantee Grant’s departure, but drafting Griffin is another story. The 6-6 forward will be best utilized off the bench where he can develop his offensive and defensive game while contributing efficient shooting from beyond the arc.
The Pistons could try to ship Grant off at the trade deadline or work out a sign-and-trade the following offseason. If Detroit ultimately moves on from Grant, Saddiq Bey would slide into the four spot while Griffin fills in as the starting three. If they extend Grant, the 18-year-old could fill the sixth man role as Detroit looks to turn the corner in the coming years.
The Pistons have depth at the wing position. Bey, Hamidou Diallo, Isaiah Livers, Frank Jackson and Cunningham, to a certain degree, all hold roles as wing players. Weaver and the Pistons front office could easily pass on AJ Griffin to avoid a logjam at the wing positions, but if Griffin’s medicals are clean, his upside could be too enticing to pass on.
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