Knicks seem to have realistic chance of landing Westchester County’s AJ Griffin in NBA draft￼
Duke forward A.J. Griffin, who played high school ball at Stepinac in Westchester County, could be a Knick by the end of the week. (Gerry Broome/AP)
If he’s available, the hometown option will intrigue the Knicks on draft night.
Duke’s AJ Griffin, a product of Westchester County and an Archbishop Stepinac graduate, was previously considered out of Leon Rose’s range at No. 11. But as the draft process hits the homestretch, it seems more realistic, even if not likely, that Griffin will still be on the board.
For the sharpshooting 18-year-old, the idea of being drafted by his home team is an exciting prospect, much like with Obi Toppin two years ago.
“To play for the Knicks, that would be a dream come true,” Griffin said. “Obviously I grew up here and that would be a fun time in New York. I know the plays. I know most of the players. It would be really, really, really good. I don’t know the emotions I’d be feeling about that. I just know it’d be exciting.”
The Knicks, according to multiple sources, have targeted Purdue guard Jaden Ivey but need to trade up for that opportunity. Ivey, a potential lead guard with elite athleticism, is expected to land fourth or fifth, and jumping there would be costly in terms of future first-round picks and prospects.
Griffin has been on their radar but could go earlier than 11th, with Portland (picking 7th), New Orleans (8th) and San Antonio (9th) showing interest.
As one of the youngest draft prospects, Griffin is a gamble on potential with a sweet jump shot. Injury concerns likely hurt Griffin’s stock, but his former Stepinac coach, Pat Massaroni, explained to the Daily News why they’re either overblown or misunderstood.
As a junior, Griffin dislocated his knee in January but would’ve returned if the season hadn’t been shut down because of COVID-19. “Didn’t tear a thing,” Massaroni said. Griffin then sat out his senior season, but that was only because Stepinac’s schedule was derailed by the pandemic.
“He wasn’t hurt,” Massaroni said. “It’s just New York had the strictest re-opening policy.”
Griffin instead relocated to Florida, where his father was an assistant coach on the Raptors (the franchise moved that season to Tampa), and took classes on Zoom while preparing for Duke by training with the pros.
He sprained his left knee during Duke’s preseason and recovered to play 39 games — 25 starts — while averaging 10.4 points and 3.9 rebounds. Most impressive, Griffin shot 45% on 3-pointers and hit 5 of his 6 attempts in the NCAA Final Four victory over Arkansas.
There was no hesitation to declare for the draft.
“Going to Duke, my mindset was 1-and-done before. We had that conversation before the season started,” Griffin said.
Now his ties to the Knicks include draft range, among other things.
Griffin’s father, Adrian, spent five seasons as an assistant coach in Chicago under Tom Thibodeau, peaking with the Bulls’ run to the conference finals in 2010.
The son is also represented by CAA, the agency closely associated with the Knicks for the better part of the last 12 years, and especially now with former CAA agents Leon Rose and William Wesley running the show.
Griffin, who grew up in Ossining, NY, played on the PSA Cardinals, the New York-based AAU program. His high school was less than 10 miles from the Knicks’ training facility in Tarrytown, where Griffin conducted his final pre-draft workout in a 1-on-0 setting.
He envisions himself a strong fit next a RJ Barrett, a fellow former Blue Devil. Griffin’s arrival would create a numbers crunch at wing, but Alec Burks, Evan Fournier and Cam Reddish are already trade candidates.
“I think just from watching (Barrett) play, I think our games — we would be good together,” Griffin said. “I know he likes to facilitate, get downhill, get spot shots. I just think we’re from Duke, we just got that Duke connection, I think that’d be cool to play with him and we’d really complement each other’s games.”
Massaroni will be in Barclays Center on draft night, along with Stepinac players and other coaches. They’d be happy with the hometown pick.
“That’s pretty surreal for him if that happens,” Massaroni said. “And also for us. And for me personally, being a Knicks fan growing up my whole life. And a lot of people in this area, you had a kid who played four years at Stepinac, played a year at Duke, and to come back home, would be pretty awesome in so many ways.”