Hawks' former top pick hits another speedbump in lost season

This season has proven particularly challenging for one of the Hawks' former top picks, which begs the question of what comes next.

Atlanta Hawks forward AJ Griffin
Atlanta Hawks forward AJ Griffin / Jordan Godfree-USA TODAY Sports

The excitement around Atlanta Hawks wing AJ Griffin was palpable last season.

Selected with the No. 16 overall pick in last year’s draft, he showed his three-point prowess and a penchant for hitting big shots in big moments.

This season has been an entirely different story for Griffin, rife with injuries and poor play, looking very little like what we saw in 2022-23. Now, the former Duke Blue Devil is dealing with an injury while with the College Park Skyhawks in the G League.

“AJ Griffin has missed the last four College Park Skyhawks games due to soreness in his right lower leg and ankle following a contusion on March 5,” the Hawks announced in a statement on X, formerly Twitter on March 16. “He will be recalled to the Hawks later today and is scheduled to be evaluated by the Hawks’ medical staff next week.

“An update will be provided following the appointment.”

Griffin averaged 8.9 points and shot 39% from beyond the arc as a rookie. He is averaging 2.1 points and shooting 27.3% from three this season. 

All is far from lost, though, with the 6-foot-6 Griffin averaging 14.2 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.5 steals, and 1.2 assists while shooting 40% from deep in six G League appearances. That’s what makes this injury so disappointing.

Griffin was a veritable anomaly for this Hawks core. 

AJ Griffin got a lot of exposure as a rookie, but it hasn't carried over to this season

His 72 games were the most by a Hawks rookie since the 2018-19 season when Trae Young made 81 appearances while Kevin Huerter logged 75. 

Only now, with his venture to the G League, is Griffin following the path of success that the most recent Hawks’ youngsters have taken. Jalen Johnson averaged 5.5 minutes per game as a rookie, and he spent eight games in the G League last season.

This season, Johnson is a legitimate candidate for Most Improved Player.

Now these are two very different situations, as is that of rookie Kobe Bufkin. The No. 15 overall pick in this past draft played well with the Skyhawks after and before injuries interrupted him.

Bufkin and Johnson both possess defensive chops that Griffin doesn’t perhaps hindering his ability to follow in their footsteps. And his descent began during last season’s playoffs when he failed to see the floor.

A seemingly perfect fit in Head Coach Quin Snyder’s three-heavy scheme, it hasn’t clicked.

Add in the personal issues he dealt with earlier in the season and the 2023-24 campaign has turned out to be a lost one for Griffin.

That begs the question of what exactly is next for Griffin. The Hawks drafted an apparent replacement in Seth Lundy, with the 2023 second-round pick already getting a small shot to contribute this season amid the myriad injuries.

This is supposed to be a short injury stint.

Hopefully, that will mean Griffin hits the ground running when he gets back on the court for the Skyhawks or the Hawks.