2022: Pick #16. Actual: AJ Griffin. Should’ve Been: Walker Kessler
We’re only one season into the AJ Griffin experience, and I’m expecting big things from the youngster in year 2.
Let’s talk about Kessler first. Kessler received some All-Defensive Team votes as a rookie, a remarkable achievement for big men who often look lost in the middle of an NBA defense. He almost instantly figured out the footwork of the delicate dance that is defending the pick-and-roll, and he was a shotblocking phenom without becoming a foul magnet. Offensively, he had great hands and was a strong roller and screen-setter. You can argue that he was straight-up better than Clint Capela last year as a rookie (I wouldn’t, but it was close enough to be a reasonable conversation).
But I don’t want to discount Griffin. Griffin is another Dookie, but unlike Johnson, he shined immediately as a shooter. He ended the year at 39% from deep on nearly seven attempts per 36 minutes, which is great accuracy on solid volume. Defensively, he was a rookie: solid sometimes, lost most of the time. The potential is there for him to become at least dependable, if not good.
Griffin also became the first rookie since Toni Kukoc with two buzzer-beating game-winners, some bright spots in an otherwise cloudy season.
True 3-and-Ds are hard to find. It’s an essential archetype for any contender, but finding players who can credibly claim to be sharpshooters and quality defenders is harder than it sounds.
Griffin’s shooting is real, and if he can develop defensively the way Atlanta thinks he can, they may have found a core piece who can slot in next to Young or any superstar.