TUALATIN — Should the Portland Trail Blazers keep the No. 7 pick in the 2022 NBA draft, a player who could be difficult to pass up would be Duke small forward AJ Griffin.
Griffin worked out for the Blazers on Thursday at the team’s practice facility and afterward, could be seen receiving individual instruction from Blazers star Damian Lillard.
Griffin, projected in most mock drafts to be selected anywhere from No. 7 to No. 12, is only 18. However, he is built like a veteran NBA player at 6-foot-6 and 222 pounds.
He is a determined defender who said Thursday that critics who doubt his ability to defend well at the NBA level right away only motivate him to work harder.
“I just want to prove everyone wrong,” he said. “When they say you can’t do something, it makes you more motivated to go show them that you can do something.”
During defensive drills Thursday, Griffin said he talked to himself, muttering, “You can’t play defense. You can’t play defense.”
“That makes me more fired up,” Griffin said.
That should be music to the ears of Blazers coach Chauncey Billups, who is searching for defensive-minded players to fill out the roster.
Furthermore, Griffin can already shoot at a high level. He made 44.7% of his three-point attempts as a freshman while helping the Blue Devils win the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title and reach the Final Four. But Griffin, who averaged 10.4 points in 24 minutes per game, remains raw in the areas of creating his own shot and setting up teammates.
“I think once I slow the game down, learn the offense on this level, and get comfortable with that, the sky is the limit,” Griffin said.
From the standpoint of basketball smarts, Griffin has been a student of the game since childhood. His father, Adrian Griffin, played nine years in the NBA (1999-2008), most notably with Dallas and Chicago. He is now an assistant coach with Toronto.
“I think I lean on him a lot,” AJ Griffin said.
That education, AJ Griffin said, has helped him prepare for this moment. But he realizes that he still must put in the work.
“You get an advantage of the wisdom and the knowledge but you still have to learn how to do it on your own,” he said.
Griffin has all of the tools the Blazers could want in a prospect at No. 7. But given his youth, Griffin will likely need a few years to develop into a well-rounded NBA player.
His inexperience, further compounded by an ankle injury that caused him to miss his senior season at Archbishop Stepinac high school in White Plains, New York, will likely prevent Griffin from being more than a rotational player in his first two seasons.
The same question marks dog the previous three first-round candidates the Blazers brought in for workouts. Guard/forward Dyson Daniels, 19, from Australia and the G League Ignite, worked out for Portland last week. Arizona guard Bennedict Mathurin, 19, worked out Sunday. Memphis center/forward Jalen Duren, 18, worked out on Monday.
Such youth is not exactly what the Blazers are looking for as they attempt to revamp the roster around Lillard, who turns 32 on July 15. As reported numerous times, the Blazers would prefer to flip the No. 7 pick for a veteran starter who could help the team right away. That’s often easier said than done.
Should the Blazers keep the pick, then the hope would be that they land a player who could at least provide some quality minutes now and develop into a star down the road.
Griffin could be that guy.
Adding a wing with NBA size, defensive want-to and three-point shooting certainly wouldn’t be a bad idea for the Blazers. But in many ways, he is very similar to what the Blazers already have in the 6-5 Nassir Little, selected in the first round in 2019.
Little last year developed into a capable defender who demonstrated improved shooting. He figures to be in the team’s rotation next season if not the starter at small forward.
For that reason alone, maybe Mathurin, an already polished all-around scorer, or Duren, who could provide instant rim protection, would make more sense for the Blazers than Griffin.
Whatever the case, clearly the Blazers had enough intrigue in Griffin to work him out, adding him to a wide array of prospects who offer differing strengths for the Blazers to choose from.
— Aaron Fentress | afentress@Oregonian.com | @AaronJFentress (Twitter), @AaronJFentress (Instagram), @AaronFentress (Facebook).
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