Column: AJ Griffin is flying, now it's time to sit back and watch him soar

Freshman AJ Griffin is putting up a video game-like 50% mark from 3-point range this season.
Freshman AJ Griffin is putting up a video game-like 50% mark from 3-point range this season.

Duke has played four games since I wrote “Let Griffin Fly” Jan, 25. I’ll admit that he didn’t look great during the two-point crunchtime win against Clemson. One-of-7 for two points with just three rebounds to boot probably marked his worst performance as a Blue Devil. Less than 12 hours after I advocated for freshman guard AJ Griffin’s shooting to be the key focal point of the offense over generating more opportunities for Paolo Banchero. I feared that my column hadn’t even survived a single game. When it comes to the development of young talent, however, patience is always a virtue and like a fine wine, Griffin has only gotten better with age.

Over the past three games, Griffin elevated his game to the best on the Duke team. With his silky smooth jumper and improved confidence off-the-dribble, the White Plains, N.Y., native is one of the most lethal offensive weapons in the nation right now, and his draft stock is up to the top half of the NBA lottery. After starting the season on the bench and playing inconsistent basketball in his first five games as a starter, Griffin’s three-game hot streak cemented his position as the best scoring option on Duke’s team and, for a player who spent much of the early season coming off the bench in return from a knee injury, his status as the most valuable player for the Blue Devils come March Madness.

Duke goes as Griffin goes—in the last three games, he’s scored 22, 13, and 27 points, leading all scoring twice as well as launching Duke to three wins and the top of the conference. If it wasn’t clear before the last few weeks, him playing well propels the Blue Devils to victory time and time again. In the three losses Mike Krzyzewski’s squad has sustained this season, Griffin’s never notched over 10 points. It’s as though with meaningful offensive production from the future NBA player, a win is nearly guaranteed.

So, what changed over the past three games to allow Griffin such success? It’s all shot selection. For example, earlier in the season, Griffin shot from the top of the key often, but with little success. Prior to the Jan. 29 game against Louisville, he managed a mediocre 27% from that region and didn’t seem to be comfortable driving inside in games tracked by CBB Analytics. 

Over the past three games, however, he’s essentially rid himself of that inefficient shot entirely and focused on the drive-and-kick or spot-up shooting from the left and right keys, from where he’s much more accurate. In the last three games of play, Griffin only missed a single shot from his weak spot at the top of the key because he’s nearly eliminated the most glaring inefficient zones from his jump-shooting repertoire. He’s figured out that wing shots are his strong point, and he’s sticking to them confidently to the tune of 9-of-13 shooting from beyond the arc since struggling in the Clemson game. We saw his ability best in his signature performance of the season, 27 points and 3-of-6 3-point shooting in a blowout win against North Carolina, and he continues to maintain an incredible 50% 3-point percentage on the year.

It’s been rare over the past few years for Duke to have a sharpshooter in the starting lineup like Griffin this season. Matthew Hurt shot 44.4% from three last season, but before then, you’d have to look back to Gary Trent Jr. in 2017-18 to find another player of Griffin’s long-range prowess on the court at tip-off. Banchero could be the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft, and junior captain Wendell Moore Jr. bounced back well against North Carolina on Saturday, but the last few games have shown us that if Krzyzewski truly wants to get a ring on his other hand, his best chance is to continue to let Griffin fly.

Editor's note: All advanced analytics are courtesy of CBB Analytics.


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