Column: Let Griffin fly

Freshman forward AJ Griffin has sunk 11 threes since entering the starting lineup four games ago.
Freshman forward AJ Griffin has sunk 11 threes since entering the starting lineup four games ago.

This column is a counterpoint to Chronicle Sports Managing Editor Max Rego’s column last week advocating to “Let Paolo Cook.”

Five days ago, Chronicle Sports managing editor Max Rego published a 600-word column advocating for freshman forward Paolo Banchero to take over the Duke offense in crunch time. At 6-foot-10, the Wooden Award candidate can do it all on the court. Potential top-five NBA pick Banchero is one of the nation’s true gamechangers on the court, but another freshman might be the best closer for this Duke team.

Banchero is the Blue Devils’ leading scorer and rebounder with the strength and length to bully opponents down low, but in 2022, basketball is about pace and space. Getting downhill and to the basket on isolations and pick and rolls is certainly as valuable as ever, but to truly maximize offensive output in the modern era, a team has to spread the floor, knock down open shots and count by threes instead of twos. To do this, head coach Mike Krzyzewski should look to none other than the best jump-shooter on the floor, freshman guard and newly-anointed starter AJ Griffin.

Banchero has been good for at least 15 points in every ACC matchup this season while shooting an impressive 50.9% from the field, but how much more volume does he really need? Since starting in place of Jeremy Roach, Griffin has shown that he deserves more opportunities within the flow of the offense. In the overtime loss to Florida State, Banchero put up 20 points on 11 shots, while Griffin put up eight points on five shots. Griffin is a bona fide sharpshooter this season and is making 46.6% of all of his threes. Why make Banchero shoulder such a heavy load when you have an elite 3-point shooter on the court with him?

Duke has 6-foot-10 and 7-foot interior big men in the front court who have the gravity to suck defenders into the paint and open up the floor for the wings— there’s no reason not to take advantage of the one guy who can make full use of that heightened attention. Griffin is absolutely deadly from his favorite spots along the perimeter. Per CBB Analytics, the White Plains, N.Y. product is 9-for-17 from the left corner and 8-for-13 from the right wing, miles ahead of NCAA averages from either location. Griffin may have started off the season rocky due to his preseason knee injury, but the 18-year old took coming off the bench with the maturity of a seasoned veteran, waited his turn to start and is now cooking ACC defenses when he gets in rhythm.

Maybe this take is too contrarian, but we’re in a new era of basketball. The approach to a Duke offense hitting on all cylinders is simple—when you have a player uniquely capable of making shots worth 1.5 times more than anyone else in your lineup, you should use him as much as you possibly can.

Let Griffin fly.


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