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Duke men's basketball 2021-22 player preview: AJ Griffin

Freshman forward AJ Griffin will miss the start of the 2021-22 campaign with a sprained knee suffered Oct. 8.
Freshman forward AJ Griffin will miss the start of the 2021-22 campaign with a sprained knee suffered Oct. 8.

As November nears, it is becoming apparent that basketball season is on the horizon. That means that it is time for our player previews of every member of Duke men's basketball. Next up is freshman AJ Griffin. Read the previous previews here: Stanley Borden, Spencer Hubbard, Keenan Worthington, Michael Savarino, Bates Jones, Jaylen Blakes and Theo John

AJ Griffin

Year: Freshman

Height: 6-foot-6

Position: Forward

Last year’s stat line: N/A

Game breakdown: Griffin, a strongly built forward with elite two-way potential, is a key part of Duke's stunning recruiting class. Due to the pandemic and ankle injury issues, Griffin has not been able to participate in official basketball in over a year, as he missed his last season at the high school level. The fact that he was still able to maintain his stellar recruiting status, however, simply speaks to the level of his previous on-court dominance

Griffin burst onto the scene during his sophomore year of high school at Archbishop Stepinac, averaging 20.9 points, 10.9 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 3.5 blocks per game while showcasing his all-around versatility on both ends of the floor. Griffin carried his success to the following year by averaging 17.7 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 2.3 blocks while dealing with a nagging knee injury for most of the season. 

Beyond his high school performance, Griffin was named a McDonald’s All-American and helped lead the U16 USA Men’s Basketball team to a gold medal. With a team-high 3.3 steals per game to go along with efficient shooting clips, Griffin's two-way capabilities were able to shine through in the event.

Now transitioning to the collegiate level, Griffin should continue his defensive success due to his size and natural athleticism. His ability to guard multiple positions and disrupt passing lanes makes him a truly versatile wing prospect, and he has already proven to be an efficient shooter. Should his deep ball develop further, Griffin would become even tougher to guard. His natural talent and high basketball IQ mean that Griffin has a high ceiling with the Blue Devils.

Role on the team: Griffin was set to start for the Blue Devils this season but will likely miss Duke's first few games due to a sprained knee. Griffin should, however, be back in the rotation before too long, possibly even in time for marquee matchups against Gonzaga and Ohio State in late November. 

When he does finally lace up for Duke, Griffin will likely be at or near the top of the small forward depth chart and may spend some time at power forward or shooting guard. He is a capable playmaker and impressive shot creator, so expect to see him bringing the ball up the court on occasion. The threat Griffin's range poses should also open up the paint, especially if head coach Mike Krzyzewski opts to go small-ball with the White Plains, N.Y., native at the four. His biggest impact, however, could come on the defensive end, where his versatility will prove invaluable.

NBA comparison: The similarities between Griffin and Miami Heat star Jimmy Butler are clear. The two are roughly the same height with strong builds, broad shoulders and natural defensive frames. Both play a physical style on offense and while Griffin is a better shooter from beyond the arc, Butler has a more extensive post-game. Griffin and Butler both, however, have a quick first step and a high basketball IQ.

These days, Butler is a much better playmaker and a worse shooter than he used to be. His younger days with the Chicago Bulls are a better match for Griffin, who could still develop into that type of playmaker while maintaining his shooting ability. 

Projected stat line: 9.6 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 2.3 APG, 24 MPG

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