Evaluation of the AJ Griffin trade between Atlanta and Houston

Evaluation of the AJ Griffin trade between Atlanta and Houston

Evaluation of the AJ Griffin trade between Atlanta and Houston

After a rough sophomore season, the Atlanta Hawks decided to move on from third-year forward AJ Griffin and sent him to the Houston Rockets in exchange for the No. 44 in the NBA draft. The choice turned into striker Nikola Djurisic.

Griffin had a solid rookie season with the Hawks in 2022-2023, averaging 8.9 PPG and 39 percent from three in 72 games. Last season, he played in 20 games, averaging 2.4 PPG and shooting just 25 percent from three. Griffin took time away from the team for a personal absence in December. He never really found his rhythm during the season last year and some of that can probably be attributed to his minutes. Being inserted into the lineup for 5-10 minutes at a time and then sitting out several games after that is not conducive to the development of young players.

However, he did not play very well in the minutes he was given. After starting the season well, he played just seven games in November and then sat out December for personal reasons. The three-point range he showed from his rookie season didn’t carry over into his sophomore campaign, as he forced shots and struggled with efficiency in his appearances. In February, he was assigned to the G League and looked closer to the player he was in his rookie season. Some of that is to be expected, but he started off the bench with the College Park Skyhawks and averaged 14.2 points per game on 43.2 percent from the field and 40 percent from beyond the arc. He also posted 4.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.3 steals per game in his six appearances with College Park. Unfortunately, he suffered an injury that cut his season short.

Griffin is still a talented player who has a legitimate three-point shot. Sending him down to the G League should have happened sooner as he was unable to contribute in his time with the 18-man roster. I think he needs to grow defensively, but he showed signs of growth with College Park and probably would have continued to progress with more time. I kind of understand why he’s been traded since he fell out of Snyder’s rotation, but he could have used more time in the G League to regain some of the form he showed in 2022-23.

There’s always a chance the Hawks can stash Durisic, but that’s unknown at this point.

Durisic is a strong, creative player with the ball in his hands, but will need to develop his game off the ball to have a role in the league. If Atlanta keeps him, I think he’ll probably see minutes in the G-League. Atlanta has done a great job of developing guys in College Park, so this could be an ideal spot for Durisic.

Durisic was player number 37 on Sam Vecenie’s big board at The Athletic. Here’s what Vecenie said his strengths were going into the draft:

Strengths: Djurišić is big for a creative wing scorer: 6-7 without shoes, with a 6-8 wingspan and an 8-6 1/2 foot radius. It has some bounce and lift and some degree of change. His 10.63 agility time was among the best at the combine, especially for his size. He also has the power he can access while driving to the rim. Creativity is the key to his game. Djurišić is very sharp in the way he attacks defenders and his movements are sudden. He is constantly aggressive and probing, trying to make things happen. He wants to push the pace and tempo of the game forward with speed and craft. He is confident. He believes he is the best player every time he takes the field.

Investing in Djurišić is investing in the idea that he can be a great wing creator in the long run. Djurišić is very crafty about jumping in the way he attacks the game. He tries to put pressure on you. That works best on ball screens right now. He likes to attack and try to go downhill and is also creative in trying to find creases. He knows how to split ball screens and is also good at stringing up when he can to try to find a mismatch. He will wait patiently for the defenders in the first level to make their move, then try to attack them suddenly. He can beat the big guys in isolation. In that sense, he’s a three-tiered threat. He is willing to stop and step out from behind the 3-point line, pull up from mid-range or try to drive to the rim. There is an unpredictable cadence to the way he attacks that makes him slippery and difficult to stand in front of. There is an advantage to being a second-party creator.

A bet on Djurišić is also a bet on his passing ability. Djurišić clearly has a real vision for this. He’s good at drawing defenders to him and then finding angles to get kicks or drop-off passes to players in the dunker spot. I think it’s better when he makes faster decisions and moves them faster. Again, his creativity sometimes shines here. He throws some fun passes and live one-handed dribbles and can do it with speed. At Mega this season, he averaged nearly four assists per game.

Djurišić has also improved significantly as a finisher this season. He made 58.2 percent of his attempts at the board in half-court settings, per Synergy, a strong number considering many were self-created in the second half of the season. His unpredictability helps him generate touches in the paint. It also does a good job of converting that creativity into power; he leaps well with one foot to catch defenders before they fully establish their positioning. He doesn’t fly, but he can finish above the rim through traffic. He had 25 dunks this year, including 15 in the half court. I liked the way he collected the ball when he finished this year. Had some spin moves to get separation as well as some tricky Euro steps around players in traffic. He has shown improvement this season as an off-ball mover, putting himself in more dangerous positions off screens or in the early attack.

Djurišić has clean mechanics in his upper half that make you think he’ll be a shooter at some point. He has confidence every time he stops. As mentioned above, he’s a legitimate three-level threat – very good ball pick-up and clean poise going into the draw. He has a chance to be a scorer on the ball. Beyond that, he’s also a solid rim-to-rim driver. Considering how many of his shots are at the basket, his 53.5 percentage mark at the rim is OK for a teenager at this level, getting there about three times a game. It’s easy to envision Djurišić as a fun dribble-pass-shoot weapon at nearly 6-8 in shoes. Draws contact and fouls. Djurišić is an active defender. He wants to play hard and try to disrupt things. The size, strength and athleticism are there to make it work for that purpose.”

Grade: C-

I don’t like this trade for the Hawks and think they gave up on Griffin a little too quickly, but he obviously fell out of the rotation and wasn’t going to be a factor moving forward. I hope he finds a way to find his shot again and improve as a quarterback to get a chance to play in Houston. The Rockets are a loaded team and it will be hard to crack their rotation.

If Durisic turns out to be a good steal in the second round, this trade could turn out to be good for Atlanta. If not and Griffin continues to be a solid player somewhere, many will wonder if Atlanta moved him too soon. It all depends on how both players perform in their new destinations.