Duke basketball: Why AJ Griffin is the most important player

Duke basketball forward AJ Griffin (Photo by Lance King/Getty Images)
Duke basketball forward AJ Griffin (Photo by Lance King/Getty Images) /

AJ Griffin is key to this Duke basketball team reaching its full potential.

No one argues about who is Duke basketball’s best player. Paolo Banchero is the leading scorer and rebounder for the Duke Blue Devils. He leads all true freshmen in the nation in scoring as well at 17.2 points per game, not to mention he is a surefire top-three pick in the NBA Draft following the season.

Is it possible, though, that Banchero is not the most important player for the Blue Devils? How can a guy averaging under 10 points per game be more important than a guy leading the team in scoring?

Well, looking back at the Duke season so far, the team’s true emergence as a national title contender coincides with the emergence of AJ Griffin as a legitimate contributor. When you get further into the details, you can see that the games in which the Blue Devils have struggled recently are the games they don’t get a contribution from Griffin, particularly on the offensive end.

Duke basketball’s most reliable 3-point threat

Outside of AJ Griffin, who is shooting 48.6 percent from downtown despite coming up empty in Monday night’s home loss to Virginia, the Blue Devils don’t have much consistency when it comes to outside shooting.

Although Wendell Moore Jr. is shooting 39.0 percent on the year from downtown, he tends to be a streaky shooter that can’t be depended on from the perimeter on a regular basis. And fellow co-captain Joey Baker, while a better overall player than he was last year, still isn’t good enough defensively to log heavy minutes.

Banchero himself is a threat from range. Yet again, he doesn’t offer enough consistency beyond the arc to make opposing teams fear his outside shooting ability.

That is where AJ Griffin’s shooting ability makes the difference for the Blue Devils. When he is in rhythm, opposing defenses must respect his ability to knock down perimeter shots, which stretches out the defense and gives Banchero, Moore, and to a lesser extent, Trevor Keels room to work and get to the basket.

And that is when the Duke basketball offense starts hitting on all cylinders.

These Duke Blue Devils have all the pieces to win a national championship in Mike Krzyzewski’s final season. But if they are going to get it done, it’s going to take AJ Griffin being at his best for the six-game stretch that matters most.

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