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Why a Gobert to the Hawks deal is more likely post-draft

Rudy Gobert has been rumored to the Hawks for months and the results of the draft improves Atlanta’s offer for the 3x DPOY

Dallas Mavericks v Utah Jazz - Game Four
Rudy Gobert focuses ahead of a bout with the Dallas Mavericks during last season’s Playoffs
Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

The Utah Jazz stood pat at the 2022 NBA Draft last Thursday, making no moves in anticipation, during, or in the wake of draft night. Outside of wild moves between the New York Knicks and the Oklahoma City Thunder, the league was quiet on big trades.

One point remains, still: the Utah Jazz need to make some moves.

After 3 years of this core group of Mitchell-Gobert-Bogdanovic-Conley, two first-round playoff exits and a demoralizing loss to the Kawhi-less Clippers poises Utah for an altered approach this coming season.

Is that new direction without 3x DPOY and multi-time All-NBA and All-Star Rudy Gobert?

It very well might. Not only are trade rumors circulating but media members have begun to comment on Utah’s active involvement in deals including the big man:

The Chicago Bulls and the Atlanta Hawks are the most oft discussed suitors. Both teams make sense as landing spots for Gobert as Chicago longs for a defensive presence in the middle to compliment their well-rounded guards and wings while Atlanta has an array of players and picks with which to consolidate their roster.

Over the past two weeks, reports also circulated that the Jazz were insisting Patrick Williams of the Bulls and De’Andre Hunter of the Hawks be included in any deal. As expected, those proved to be sticking points as teams weren’t quick to give up on their young, potential-filled wings.

In fact, ahead of the draft Sam Amick of The Athletic shared that Atlanta really hasn’t been all that interested in Gobert.

As is typical in the NBA, it’s crucial we consider the narrative framing taking place with all reports. For example, who, why, and what are important questions to break down for such reports in order to break through the surface level message that often serves to distract.

If the sticking point on a deal between the Jazz and Hawks was in fact Hunter, it’s in Atlanta’s best interest to posture as not needing Rudy. Unfortunately for Jazz fans, Utah has tipped their hand too far. It’s widely known the franchise is itching for a return on their star center even if it’s true their ultimately willing to retain him without a suitable deal.

Atlanta is also overplaying their love for Capela, whose struggles and health the past year have been well documented. John Collins was also rumored in the deal and has been a featured member of trade rumors for over two seasons.

In summary, the report may be true on the surface. At the price Utah was asking, Atlanta’s not all that interested. But for a different price, maybe the Hawks are interested again.

In fact, a deal to the Hawks (as unlikely as it may have been) is still MORE likely to occur in the aftermath of the NBA Draft, where the Atlanta Hawks selected AJ Griffin with their 16th pick.

2022 NBA Draft
AJ Griffin selected 16th by the Atlanta Hawks in last Thursday’s NBA draft
Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Trade packages for Rudy Gobert without De’Andre Hunter appeared to be structured around Collins + Capela + #16. Prior to the draft, that package felt like a bargain for the future Hall of Famer.

In the days leading up to the draft, it appeared as though #16 put a team in the running to select Tari Eason, Ochai Agbaji, and Mark Williams. Utah certainly didn’t think those prospects bridged the gap left without including Hunter.

However, AJ Griffin was a consensus top 10 pick in mock drafts with some anticipating he could go as high as 6th. With him falling to 16th, suddenly Atlanta’s offer of Collins + #16 and whomever they want for remaining salary not-named De’Andre Hunter appears far more valuable than two days prior.

There’s a chance negotiations could resume, and that the name and face of AJ Griffin in the deal instead of an abstract #16 could grease the wheels on a deal.

Let’s talk about AJ Griffin quick. Because he was mocked in the top 10, most Jazz fans likely didn’t concentrate on his draft range and didn’t get as much national pub since he was outside a concentrated top 3-5.

AJ Griffin is a 6’6” tall, 222 lb wing from Duke University. His wingspan stretches to 7’0” and will be just 19 when the season begins. Interestingly, he’s the son of current Utah Jazz head coaching candidate Adrian Griffin.

He was a top 30 ESPN recruit out of high school but whose ranking suffered after only playing Freshman and Junior years due to knee issues. He landed on a stacked Duke roster and was featured behind #1 overall pick Paolo Banchero and alongside other picks in this draft Mark Williams, Wendell Moore Jr., and Trevor Keels.

Griffin’s per-game stats at Duke won’t blow you away: 10.4 pts, 3.9 rbs, 1.0 ast. What does stand out is his 63% true shooting, 0.537 3PArate, and 18.8% USG rate. If you compare per-possession numbers to similar players in the draft, he comes out

AJ Griffin per 100 poss Numbers vs Similar Picks

Bennedict Mathurin 30 9.5 4.3 1.6 0.5 3
Johnny Davis 34.5 14.4 3.7 2 1.3 4
Jalen Williams 28.9 7.1 6.7 1.9 0.9 3.4
Ochai Agbaji 30.8 8.3 2.6 1.5 0.9 3.4
Dalen Terry 15.9 9.6 7.7 2.5 0.6 2.7
AJ Griffin 25.4 9.6 2.4 1.3 1.4 1.6
Data tahks to Basketball Reference

His role was very defined: space the floor. As the breakdown video above shows, he was arguably the best shooter in the draft: 45% on nearly 160 attempts. He made 79% of his 53 free throw attempts which supports his abilities. His mechanics and form raise no red flags.

Take a look at his shot chart:

AJ Griffin Shot Chart
AJ Griffin Shot Chart at Duke
Data thanks to Dominic Samangy

Given his limited role at Duke, a key question is if he’s “just a shooter”. It’s important for a player who’s not making their shots to be active in other ways.

Watching a very brief amount of film, Griffin does appear active and engaged defensively but lacks the instincts and discipline to create consistent impact.

Using his game log data, we can run some basic linear regression to evaluate Griffin’s impact under certain conditions:

Not Featured in the Offense (aka: not getting shots)

Rebounding: we do see some suggestive evidence that Griffin rebounds less when he doesn’t get enough opportunities to score (TRB ~ TSA, coef: 0.262, p-val: 0.001).

Getting Others Involved: we don’t see any evidence that Griffin is less likely to setup teammates when he doesn’t get shots (AST ~ TSA, coef: 0, p-val: 0.992).

Defensive Aggressiveness: we don’t see any evidence that Griffin goes after steals or blocks less when he doesn’t get opportunities to score (STL+BLK ~ TSA, coef: 0.065, p-val: 0.168).

Carelessness: we don’t see any evidence that Griffin commits more turnovers when not featured in the offense (TOV ~ TSA, coef = 0.08665, p-val: 0.006).

Poor Shooting Nights (aka: not making shots)

Rebounding: we don’t see any evidence that Griffin rebounds less when he is missing or making shots (TRB ~ TS%, coef: 0.942, p-val: 0.414).

Getting Others Involved: we don’t see any evidence that Griffin gets tunnel vision when he’s making or not making shots (AST ~ TS%, coef: 0.13, p-val: 0.825).

Defensive Aggressiveness: we don’t see any evidence that Griffin gets less aggressive on the ball he doesn’t make shots (STL+BLK ~ TS%, coef: 0.8752, p-val: 0.162).

Carelessness: we don’t see any evidence that Griffin loses focus and commits more turnovers when missing shots (TOV ~ TS%, coef = 0.2819, p-val: 0.516).

After a little film and a some game-log analysis, we should feel pretty good that Griffin’s abilities were overshadowed but that he’s a good shooter who doesn’t really let the rest of his game be dictated by his level of involvement or whether his shot falls.

Finally, take a quick look at his radar chart:

AJ Griffin Radar Chart
AJ Griffin Radar Chart at Duke
Data thanks to Dominic Samangy

Based on these results, he profiles as having a similar game to the following NBA forwards:

Kelly Oubre Jr.: 92.4%

Devin Vassell: 87.8%

Norman Powell: 85.9%

OG Anunoby: 85.8%

Having broken down the type of game AJ Griffin possesses, is he the type of player Utah might want and would make them ease up on requiring De’Andre Hunter in a deal with Atlanta?

It’s very possible. This is an elite shooter who’s extremely young. Didn’t get featured at Duke yet has comparable volume adjusted stats as players picked as high as #6. He’s got an NBA ready body and has potential to see additional growth.

Ultimately the concern that saw him drop to #16 were the knees that kept him out of high school play Sophomore and Senior year. It feels similar to Michael Porter Jr. of the Denver Nuggets. This could be a real hit, a pretty ideal backcourt mate to Donovan Mitchell and still young enough to piggyback on a rebuild should it come to that.

The Jazz should absolutely be willing to give up on Hunter’s inclusion for AJ Griffin and other concessions (inclusion of next year’s 1st via CHA, Jalen Johnson, and/or Kevin Huerter).

The next step in this whole process is to get to free agency, the next logical avenue for trades, as the rest of the league begins to take shape in the wake of the drat. We’ll see if rumors escalate again in the wake of Atlanta turning pick #16 into AJ Griffin.