Duke forward A.J. Griffin (21) dribbles against Elon during the...

Duke forward A.J. Griffin (21) dribbles against Elon during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Durham, N.C., on Dec. 18, 2021.  Credit: AP/Gerry Broome

For years the Knicks have had to endure reminders that they passed on a star talent from their own backyard in the NBA Draft, hearing over and over about how Donovan Mitchell could have been theirs and to this day there are rumors and hints that they’d like to figure out how to bring  him home.

Now, Thursday in the 2022 NBA Draft it feels like a bit of deja vu with a local star, just a long jumper from their Westchester County training center. AJ Griffin is expected to be taken among the lottery picks in the first round — where the Knicks find themselves with the possibility that they will have to make a decision whether to bring the Duke forward home.

Like Mitchell has ties to the Knicks front office, having had Leon Rose as his agent, Griffin has ties, too. His father, Adrian Griffin, after a long NBA career, served as an assistant coach under Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau during Thibodeau’s time in Chicago. And now after a season with the Blue Devils where he established himself as one of the best shooters in college basketball, the 6-7 wing just might come home.

“Playing for the Knicks, I mean, that that would be a dream come true,” Griffin said in a pre-draft zoom call. “Just, obviously, I grew up here and I think that would just be a fun time in New York. I know the place, I know most of the players and so it just would be really, really, really good. I don't know the emotions I would be feeling about that. But I just know it'd be exciting. I played MSG two times [last season]. And it was just an experience like no other and so, I think that would just be amazing, an amazing experience.”

The 18-year-old Griffin may seem a perfect fit. He's an elite shooter who also projects as a strong, versatile defender with an NBA pedigree and close ties to the coach and the area. His final workout of the draft process came with the Knicks, a solo workout at the practice facility. 

But there are questions that have caused his stock to dip slightly. Since high school he has endured more than his share of injuries despite a sturdy frame. Griffin was limited to 12 games as a sophomore and 16 as a junior with knee injuries and then sat out his senior season, choosing to head to Tampa where the Raptors were based during COVID-19 and take classes remotely while rehabilitating and training with his father.

While working his way into basketball shape as a freshman at Duke he came off the bench in the first 14 games, averaging just 7.3 points in 15.4 minutes per game. When his first start came on January 12 against Wake Forest he responded with 22 points in 36 minutes (12 minutes more than he’d appeared in any game to that point), converting 8 of 11 from the field, including 5 of 6 from three-point range. He started the final 25 games and his 44.7% shooting from beyond the arc would have led the NCAA if he’d attempted enough to qualify for the lead.

“ I think it’s just that I feel confident moving forward that as I’m able to get my body right and just getting more work on that that they'll show up even more in time. That's one part of my game, but you know, I feel like I can show much more.”

“I don’t know about any red flags,” ESPN’s Jay Bilas said in a conference call Tuesday. “I mean, certainly he had an injury in high school that kept him out for over a year. So when he got to Duke, he hadn’t played in a while. And that certainly slowed his start, but it certainly didn’t slow his finish.

“There’s no player in this draft with the amount of attempts that he had that shot the ball as well as he did. He shot right under 46%t from three. And he’s one of the best shooters in this draft, if not the best shooter. He’s 91st percentile if I remember right in that department, and he can guard. With his length, he’s got a 7-foot wingspan at about 6-5, 6-6. He’s not one of these sort of guys who lead with his athleticism. But he’s athletic, and he does a good job in keeping his matchup in front of him. If I remember right, I think he held his assignment to around 36% from the field on the season. That’s pretty darn good. He’s a good player, and I think he showed with his improvement that he’s got a pretty high ceiling.”

And if the Knicks remain with Julius Randle and RJ Barrett as the centerpieces of the franchise, Griffin's shooting and wing defense could be an easy fit.

“I think he could fit almost anywhere because he can shoot it, and he plays hard,” Bilas said. “But he’s still so young. He’s got some developing to do, just like a number of other 19-year-olds coming out in the draft. They’re not finished products yet.”