AJ Griffin: “I look up to Jimmy Butler a lot”

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Former Duke star AJ Griffin enters the NBA Draft as a projected top-10 pick according to our most recent HoopsHype aggregate mock draft. That consensus was echoed by three NBA scouts who spoke to HoopsHype.

One NBA scout whose team has Griffin as a top-10 pick on their board told HoopsHype, “I like his body. He’s a legit 6-foot-6 and has a huge wingspan. He’s so young at 18, and he is about 225. I like how he has an athletic stance about him, and he plays really low on defense and in drills. He’s got a smooth jumper with a compact release but needs to speed up his release. I don’t think he has a good one-on-one handle, but I think he’s good enough to drive on closeouts and go by people downhill. I think he’s a little bit of a swing (for the fences) pick. Overall, I’m very positive about the kid, and I like him.”

“In high school, he was an athlete and a dunker,” a second NBA scout told HoopsHype. “In college, he was more of a shooter. That’s why there’s so much curiosity. His defense doesn’t always match his physical and athletic tools, but it piques interest.”

“Defensively, he sets down very well and will spread out a team with his length when defending the ball,” a third NBA scout told HoopsHype. “He has the size and length to switch and defend on most college fours. He uses his strength to contain dribble backdown attempts. He’ll need to do a better job on closeouts to keep the ball in front of him. He’s great at coming back to rebound the ball.”

After a styling and fitting session with Neiman Marcus in Beverly Hills, California, for his draft suit, Griffin spoke with HoopsHype about his personality behind the scenes, his time with coach Mike Krzyzewski at Duke, player comparisons, his long-term goals, and more below.

What made you choose Neiman Marcus to personally style you from head to toe for the NBA Draft?

AJ Griffin: I feel like Neiman Marcus really fits my style and definitely caught my eye looking at the past suits they’ve done. I’m excited. It felt like the right decision.

We’ve seen cool designs and logos inside suits at the draft. What style and possible logo inside your suit jacket or other accessories can we expect on draft night?

AJG: I definitely want to do something with my suit that will show my faith, whether it’s inside the jacket or a cross on the outside, something like that I feel really shows my personality and what I believe in.

You’ve tweeted a lot about your faith. Where does your faith in God stem from, and how does it help you in life and basketball?

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AJG: It definitely came from all my hard times in life. I feel like that’s where my faith grew even more. You don’t know what to do, and you put your faith in Jesus, and he rescued me. I accept him as my Lord and savior, and I live my life for him. It really helps with basketball, too, if you’re having a hard day or going through trials and tribulations knowing that you’re going to get through it. Even if nothing is going bad and it’s going good, you just always have that faith and be grateful about the blessings you have in your life. 

What’s something about you off the court that people wouldn’t know?

AJG: I’m really just like a kid. I’m 18 years old. I love to go to movies, play ball, play video games, and be a teenager. I’ll still watch Disney or something like that (laughs). 

After playing in Coach K’s last season at Duke, what’s something he taught you and favorite memory of his that stands out the most?

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AJG: Something Coach K taught me was the confidence level of the game, especially being a freshman at Duke playing in his last year. The confidence he gave me and the belief he had in me taught me a lot. One of my favorite moments with him was definitely after the Virginia game when I hit two big threes, and we won. He checked me out, and I got a hug from him. Having that moment with your coach is special. 

In your opinion, who would you compare your game with, and what’s your potential long-term ceiling?

AJG: I definitely look up to Jimmy Butler a lot. Potential wise, there’s not just one person who I look at. I think I take a part of everyone’s game that I like and try to put it into my game. I watch a lot of Stephen Curry or guys that shoot and can attack. I watch defenders and try to become the best version of me.

What’s the biggest misconception or criticism about you or your game that isn’t true?

AP Photo/Chris Carlson

AJG: I’d say that I’m just a shooter and a defender. I feel like I can do so much more, whether it’s dribbling, bringing the ball up the court, or making plays for my teammates. I feel like I can do more offensively that a lot of people haven’t seen. 

As a projected top-10 pick, what teams will you be working out for with the draft nearing?

AJG: I’m just looking forward to any team that wants to work out with me. Anyone in the top 10 I’ll be looking forward to and grateful for that opportunity.

What do you want to accomplish by the time you hang up your sneakers?

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

AJG: I definitely want to be a household name. Someone who won a lot in his career ranging from how many championships and left their mark. Someone who will be remembered as one of the greats. I want to look back, knowing I gave the game all that I could have and put my best foot forward. I definitely want to be someone remembered as a winner and having MVPs. I know that comes with winning.  

Your dad, Adrian Griffin, played in the NBA. What has he done to help you prepare for the NBA, and what’s that moment going to be like when the vision you both had become a reality on draft day?

AJG: Growing up, I fell in love with the game, and he was coaching at the time. He’d work me out and teach me the fundamentals. At first, it was fun just bonding with my dad and playing the sport I love. As I got older, he started to really teach me the game and what it takes to be a pro and get to that level. He’s been really good at telling me the necessary truth I needed to hear and what it takes to be a pro.  

You can follow Michael Scotto (@MikeAScotto) on Twitter.

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