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NBA Prospect Watch: Griffin healthy again, thriving at Duke

Duke’s AJ Griffin needed time to get comfortable again after missing most of the past two seasons, along with some of this year’s preseason, due to injuries.

The freshman is thriving now as a shot-maker with size and athleticism, pushing the 18-year-old high on NBA draft boards with potential to grow his game even more.

“It’s going to be hard for anybody to come in and just be great right away,” junior Wendell Moore Jr. said. “So it’s been a slow grind and a slow pace. … Now everybody’s seeing the tremendous player he is today.”

Griffin – son of former NBA player and current Toronto Raptors assistant coach Adrian Griffin — has shown tantalizing upside as part of Duke’s heralded recruiting class headlined by 6-foot-10 forward Paolo Banchero.

His stroke has been terrific from 3-point range, and he’s shown flashes of the ability to take over a game since becoming a full-time starter last month – illustrated by him scoring the first 10 points after halftime on the way to a season- high 27 in a romp at rival North Carolina,

“He’s moving his feet, and as a result is getting wider,” retiring Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski said afterward. “His first step, he’s driving the ball better. He’s getting somewhere with his first dribble instead of having his dribble within his body. … No one has worked any harder than that kid.”

SIZE: 6-6, 222 pounds.

STATS: 9.7 points, 3.6 rebounds, 50.5% shooting. He’s averaging 12.6 points and shooting 52.7% (29 of 55) on 3-pointers in his 12 starts.

STRENGTHS: It starts with Griffin’s frame and shooting touch, which gives him upside as a perimeter scorer and defender. ACC Network analyst and former Louisville player Luke Hancock noted he also plays well off teammates.

“He lets the game came to him,” Hancock said. “He’s been able to knock down shots. He’s not trying to do too much. He picks and chooses his spots about when he attacks off the dribble. He’s not out there just trying to mix somebody up and take fadeaway 3s. He’s taking quality shots and playing within the offense.”

WEAKNESSES: There aren’t many glaring holes, especially for a developing player who won’t turn 19 until August.

Hancock pointed to the ability to more effectively attack off the dribble and get to the foul line. He has shot just 14 free throws in his 12 starts, including seven without an attempt.

“If I’m going to choose one thing, it’s being able to play low, play off the bounce, create contact and probably get to the free-throw line a bit more,” Hancock said. “That’s the one (thing): he hasn’t gotten to the free throw line as much as aa physical, big, athletic presence probably should. But that’s nitpicking.”

DRAFT PROJECTION: Lottery pick.

Some other NBA prospects around the Atlantic Coast Conference:

BLAKE WESLEY, Notre Dame: The 6-5 freshman offers intriguing athleticism as a first-round prospect, though he is shooting just 41% from the field, 31% from 3-point range and 65% from the foul line entering Wednesday’s game against Boston College.

ALONDES WILLIAMS, Wake Forest: The 6-5 Oklahoma transfer remains the surprise ACC leader in scoring (19.8 points) and assists (5.2) as a second-round prospect.

MARK WILLIAMS, Duke: The 7-1 sophomore’s potential as a rebounder — illustrated by his last-second putback dunk to beat Wake Forest on Tuesday – and shot blocker stands out.

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Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at https://twitter.com/aaronbeardap

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More Associated Press college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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