Duke men's basketball starts its ACC tournament journey Thursday, so in anticipation, the Blue Zone brings a player who will be key for the Blue Devils throughout their entire run:
AJ Griffin started the season sidelined with a knee injury. The preseason hype surrounding the freshman trio thus shifted to his counterparts, Trevor Keels and Paolo Banchero, as they both put up 20-point performances in the season opener against Kentucky. Slowly, Griffin returned from his injury and was integrated back into the rotation. His playing time gradually increased until one fateful game against Wake Forest back in January. Just four days after the home loss to Miami, the Blue Devils were travelling to Winston-Salem, N.C., and head coach Mike Krzyzewski wouldn’t be attending. That was associate head coach Jon Scheyer’s, and Griffin’s, first start this season. Griffin started every remaining game.
Over those 17 starts, Griffin cemented himself as the team’s leading 3-point shooter. In that span he has made 42-of-84 from beyond the arc to score 126 of his 318 total points and establish himself as one of the best players on the Duke team. He has been someone that the Blue Devils can depend on, as illustrated by his 27-point showing in the first Tobacco Road rivalry matchup. His consistency and ability to knock down big shots proved essential.
Duke’s conference losses all have one thing in common: an uncharacteristic shooting day from Griffin. He averaged just over six points per game in each of those four matchups—four points less than his season average—and he shot 35.7% from three, a mark much lower than his season average of 48.3%.
The victories are a different story. Griffin has four 20-point performances in his 17 conference starts. He made multiple treys in 11 of those 17. When his shots are going in, the team plays better. He offers a perimeter option if the paint is blocked, while also having the strength himself to drive or dunk.
In order for Duke to find success in the ACC tournament, Griffin will once again have to be the guy that it can count on, the one who can make the big shots in big moments, the one who provides the spark it needs to get going. His shots will have to fall and his defense will have to be tight. He’s more than capable of changing a game. He’s already done it many times. This time, consistency is key. If Griffin can come out strong and play well round after round, then the Blue Devils will be a force to be reckoned with.
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