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Atlanta Hawks Send 2022 First-Round Pick to G League

Atlanta Hawks forward AJ Griffin (14) drives the ball against New Orleans Pelicans guard CJ McCollum (3) during the third quarter at Gateway Center Arena at College Park.

Atlanta Hawks wing AJ Griffin, who was sent to the G League, has a young career that has been difficult to gauge early on.

The 16th overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, Griffin excelled under former Hawks head coach Nate McMillan. Averaging 10.0 points per game on 47.5% shooting from the field and 39.3% from three over a 44-game stretch preceding McMillan’s firing, he looked like a player Atlanta could rely on. However, when McMillan was replaced by Quin Snyder midway through the 2022-23 season, Griffin went from a valued rotation piece to the end of the bench.

Receiving six DNPs in the final 20 regular season games, his playing time during that stretch fell to 16.6 minutes per game. The Duke product still knocked down a solid 37.3% of his three-point attempts over his last 17 games that season. Nonetheless, the confidence and certainty with which he had previously played took a hit. It didn’t make it better for Griffin when Snyder dropped him out of the rotation in the 2023 NBA Playoffs.

Atlanta Hawks Send 2022 First-Round Pick to G League

A Much-Needed G League Stint

Many questions have been posed about the Hawks’ view of Griffin. Indeed, there’s little doubt that his name has been dangled in trade talks since last season. However, the most head-scratching decision for the Hawks during Griffin’s time with the team was their refusal to let him play for the G League affiliate. On-ball reps are key to any player’s development. So, rather than letting Griffin rot on the bench, why not attempt to resurrect his career?

On Wednesday, the Hawks seemingly shifted course, sending him to the College Park Skyhawks. This is the type of move typically made by franchises that want to see more out of potential rotation players. Therefore, Griffin’s fares in College Park may determine whether he emerges from Snyder’s doghouse.

With the Skyhawks, expect the 2022 first-round pick to play alongside guard Kobe Bufkin, who Atlanta selected 15th overall in the 2023 NBA Draft. Hawks rookies Seth Lundy and Mouhamed Gueye, second-round picks, have also been sent to College Park for development.

The Hawks’ Investment in AJ Griffin

The Hawks still appeared to be invested in Griffin during the 2023 offseason, particularly during the Summer League.

Unfortunately, utilizing Griffin as the primary playmaker didn’t go well for Atlanta. Looking like a player in a role outside his comfort zone, he failed to make a positive impression on either end. Leaving Las Vegas with averages of 9.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists, and 0.5 blocks in 24.4 minutes per game (two games), his inefficiency was impossible to ignore. Griffin shot just 6-22 from the field (27.3%) and 4-13 from three (30.8%).

Shutting him down early in Sin City, attention turned towards the upcoming preseason. Yet, by this point, Griffin’s touch seemed to be left in 2022-23. Averaging 20.2 minutes per game (five games), Griffin mustered just 7.8 points per game on 36.6% shooting from the field and 26.1% shooting from three-point range. Not many can blame Atlanta for being uncomfortable with placing him in their rotation.

In fact, despite his growing offensive struggles, his scoring ability was still ahead of his defense. Several knee and ankle injuries sustained since high school have negatively impacted the upper limits of his quickness and mobility. Consequently, his on-ball defense took a hit. Like most young players, Griffin must also improve his defensive awareness off-ball.

Yet, the scouting report on Griffin highlights weaknesses he shares with several Hawks players. Neither Jalen Johnson nor De’Andre Hunter have been particularly durable during their NBA career. They’re also streaky three-point threats like Saddiq Bey, Dejounte Murray, and Trae Young. The defense of Murray, Young, and Bogdan Bogdanovic has left a lot to be desired. Though there are legitimate criticisms of Griffin’s game, Snyder isn’t uniform in punishing players for substandard performances.

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