AJ Griffin Atlanta Hawks
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A Deep Dive into the Numbers of AJ Griffin's Rookie Season

Aaron Holiday shoved AJ Griffin in a game late this season against the Washington Wizards.

Holiday's shove, of course, came with the best of intentions as he looked out for his 19-year-old rookie teammate.

To put the push into context, Holiday had just hit a three, and as the Wizards returned down the floor to run a set play against a set defense, they dribbled the ball up on the right sideline. Meanwhile, Griffin steadied himself to guard a shooter who was about to sprint out of the far left corner around a screen and up to the top of the key. 

Griffin poised himself well to avoid the screener – but it was only the first half of a double screen. He was about to get sandwiched on the second half. Fortunately for Griffin, Holiday reached out to his hip and nudged him out of harm's way.

The recipient did not even notice, at least not to the point when he was asked about it a couple of hours afterward.

"I don't remember it," Griffin said after the game with a laugh, "but it feels so, so good to be able to have teammates like that," Griffin said. "It just shows the love that they have for me, and I really appreciate it. It's a different feeling when you have teammates that have your back and want the best for you and are happy when you're doing good and trying to help you when you're struggling."

Even though a deep roster and the expectations of a playoff team limited Griffin to the back end of the playing rotation, he did some amazing things in his rookie season. Some were more obvious, like his two buzzer-beating game winners and his terrific 3-point shooting. Some were more subtle and now require a bit of context to get at the full picture of what he accomplished.

Griffin and his head coach, Quin Snyder, both learned a lot about basketball from the same person, former Duke University head coach Mike Krzyzewski, albeit 33 years apart. In Griffin, Snyder sees a young man who has already learned a lot about basketball from his father, former NBA player and current Toronto Raptors assistant coach, Adrian Griffin, and the other coaches like Krzyzewski for whom he has played while growing up. 

And a big part of that equation is that he is eager to be coached.

"His perspective for a young guy is – well, you talk about being coachable," Snyder said. "His offense sticks out because he can make shots and he can make plays. He is continuing to evolve where he can even use his offensive abilities and shooting to make plays for other people. He is selfless enough to want to do that. Defensively, he is dialed in. We're trying to defend collectively, but ultimately, everybody has got to contribute to that by doing their job, and that is something that I've seen from him. There is a willingness to (him) doing that. And he has probably been told that a few times in his life."

In his first NBA season, Griffin has already proven to be one of the Hawks' most reliable 3-point shooters, hitting 101 of his 259 attempts (39.0 percent). Those 101 makes were fifth-best among rookies from the 2022 NBA Draft, and only Keegan Murray of the Sacramento Kings hit more threes at a rate as accurate as AJ did. He also made 42 of his 47 free-throw attempts (89.4 percent).

While those numbers are certainly notable, to get a full impression of what AJ did in his rookie season on offense, one needs to delve a bit further into the numbers. His 3-point shooting form has a wonderful physical balance to it.

He takes a wide stance with his right foot in front of his left and every shot attempt looks exactly the same. Because of his accuracy, opposing defenses showed a willingness to sell out to take away his attempts, get into the airspace above his shot locations, and force him to drive the basketball to the rim.

Perhaps that skill, putting the ball on the deck and making a play off the bounce, is the one spot where AJ's maturity and sophistication as a basketball player stood out most. According to the NBA's tracking data, Griffin drove to the basket 201 times over the course of the season. He turned the ball over on 11 of them. A turnover rate of 5.1 percent is preposterously low for any NBA player, let alone a teenager getting his first reps at the task.

The Hawks were not really asking him to be a playmaker per se on those drives – he was driving primarily to score – but he kept his dribble out of peril, avoided double teams, and made the right pass when the play called for a reset. It was meticulously clean basketball.

There was a patience to those drives. He would find a seam drive to the middle of the paint and look for a shot. If the space to shoot was there, great! If not, he had a head fake and a foot pivot (and possibly two or three) to make some. It was as if he had a time machine to the 1980s to transform from 6-6 NBA guard Adrian Griffin Jr. into 6-foot-5 post player and All-Star Adrian Dantley.

Late in the season, Griffin noted that one of the skills on which he was working was to improve at making moves off two feet in the paint, but in the meantime, his post game off one foot suits Coach Snyder just fine.

"Triple moves are OK," Snyder said. "You saw him pivot. When he keeps the possession alive that way, he is able to read what the defense is doing. If they extend, you saw a few last night, he stepped through with his left hand and laid the ball in. That is very different than getting to a spot and rising up, which he is capable of doing. Those are things that I would like to see more (of a) situational (approach), whether it is late-clock or things like that. He has got the ability to create. He can create for other people as well.  And he can do that, and that is what we want to put for a lot of guys at the front of their brain because that helps us in every facet."

As a result, Griffin shot better than the league average at nearly every type of shot on the floor. Per StatMuse, Griffin had the highest effective field-goal percentage ever for an NBA teenager with 200 or more three-point attempts: 56.0 percent.

Griffin has already shown a lot of promise on the defensive end, and he will get better with age, strength, and experience. 

"It's all new to him," Snyder said. "He's like a sponge. He is going to make mistakes, but I think those are all things that you expect on some level, but there is just such a willingness on his part. And you've seen some possessions where he is in a stance he will pull up on somebody and level them off with his chest."

The step that cannot be skipped is the repetitions. As a wing player, Griffin will often be guarding other wings who are working away from the ball as he was on the play when Holiday nudged him on his hip. 

"It is off the ball where he is going to continue to improve," Snyder added. "It is like anything: If you see those situations over and over, you just get better at processing them. It is not necessarily even a conscious thing. But I've been really happy. You can tell there is a care factor there and that is the most important thing. As for the rest, he is intelligent. He is talented. He is big. If he just keeps working at it, he'll just keep getting better."

Certainly, Griffin will keep up putting in the effort. He has what can easily be summed up as a growth mindset as he tries to improve headed into Year 2.

"That's the joy about playing basketball," he said. "You get to see what you need to work on, and you come back next year stronger and better. I'm excited."