Duke basketball: How to insert AJ Griffin as starter

Duke basketball forward AJ Griffin (Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports)
Duke basketball forward AJ Griffin (Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports) /

AJ Griffin may be the missing piece to the Duke basketball starting lineup.

Friday night’s 88-55 home win over Lafayette (0-4) might have marked the permanent arrival of AJ Griffin as a bonafide Duke basketball weapon. The five-star freshman small forward, who suffered a knee injury in early October and thereby missed valuable time in the preseason, had by far his best outing as a member of the No. 7 Duke Blue Devils (5-0).

He tallied a career-high 18 points to go along with two boards and two steals in 21 minutes off the bench. In light of Duke’s outside-shooting struggles in the first half, the sweetest aspect of Griffin’s performance was the fire he caught from downtown in the second half, finishing the contest with a 4-for-6 clip beyond the arc.

All in all, the 6-foot-6, 220-pound muscleman out of Archbishop Stepinac (N.Y.) looked worthy of a starting nod moving forward, even if he is still in the final stage of recovery from his knee sprain.

The current Duke basketball starter who should sit in favor of AJ Griffin

Duke basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski has yet to tweak his starting five this season.

Now, if Coach K decides to start AJ Griffin, he’ll probably have to replace a teammate at a different position. After all, junior small forward Wendell Moore is a co-captain and arguably the squad’s MVP thus far as the nation’s only power-conference player averaging at least 16 points, six rebounds, and five assists while shooting better than 50 percent from the field.

Also, despite his adequate size and brute force, it’s highly doubtful Griffin would bump either of the Blue Devils’ frontcourt gems from the lineup. No, freshman power forward Paolo Banchero and sophomore center Mark Williams ought to represent Duke’s No. 1 strength as the 2021-22 campaign progresses.

That leaves two options: freshman shooting guard Trevor Keels or sophomore point guard Jeremy Roach.

Choose the latter.

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Not only does Roach often cede most floor-general duties to Moore, Keels, or Banchero anyway, but he’s also proven notably inconsistent in his 29 college games to date. Indeed, that was again the case against Lafayette as the 6-foot-1, 175-pound former five-star recruit laid a goose egg in the points column following his three straight double-digit scoring outings.

With Griffin on the floor instead of Roach at the start of games, this Duke basketball lineup could benefit from having five powerful rebounders. Plus, one wouldn’t think the Blue Devils would lose anything in the speed department considering Griffin’s top-tier athleticism and Roach’s ho-hum quickness for a guard.

Overall, these proposed Roach-less starters would form an extremely imposing collection with no man under 6-foot-4 or 215 pounds.

Besides, although Roach started 18 of 24 games as a rookie last season, he played well off the bench a few times, including his combined 25 points, 10 assists, and only one turnover against Illinois and Clemson. So he could be a valuable sixth man when checking into games for Griffin, Moore, or Keels.

In short, AJ Griffin’s clear edge over Jeremy Roach in terms of undeniable potential would give the Blue Devils the potential to wipe the floor with many opponents right out of the gates.

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Duke’s next bout is at home against The Citadel (3-1) at 9 p.m. ET Monday.