Daniel Gafford a player worth the Wizards betting on

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Hughes: Gafford worth betting on for Wizards originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

It is a practice more commonly seen in other sports, when teams identify an ascending young player and decide to offer them a contract extension far earlier than they are eligible for one. The idea being if you sign them now, maybe by paying a little extra, that deal could prove to be a bargain down the road if they continue to improve.

The Wizards appear to be going down that path with talented young center Daniel Gafford, whom they agreed to terms with on a three-year, $40.2 million extension late Monday night. The deal is fully guaranteed with no player or club options, NBC Sports Washington was told.

Gafford, 23, is due to make $1.8 million this season and $1.9 million the next. If he had hit the open market this summer, he may not have commanded a $40.2 million contract, given his small sample size of production. But if he continues on his current trajectory, he could very easily be worth much more by the time his current deal ends and the new one begins.

Gafford was a major difference-maker for the Wizards last season after they acquired him in a deadline deal with the Chicago Bulls. They won 17 of the 23 games he played, while he averaged 10.1 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.8 blocks all in 17.7 minutes.

The Wizards now have him as their projected starting center, which means he will play more often and, if those numbers scale upward, he will no longer be a well-kept secret. Gafford's preseason hinted at a breakout year, as he put up some impressive numbers: 10.8 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game.

Gafford has returned a better rebounder and perhaps an even better shot-blocker as well. His teammate Bradley Beal, for one, believes he has a ton of potential to tap into.

Just read parts of the long and glowing assessment Beal had for Gafford after Monday's practice, just hours before the extension news broke.

"He’s a special talent. I’m always going to [tell] guys ‘go be defensive player of the year, go be All-Defensive team.’ I think he has those attributes... His rim protection is up there with some of the best in the league... The sky’s the limit. I think he can be one of the better defenders in our league," Beal said.

Those are some strong superlatives, but also completely fair based on what the Wizards have seen from Gafford so far in just around seven months. He's a super athlete with all the necessary intangibles. He's young, has a high motor, a drive to be great plus the humility to be coached and the basketball IQ to identify and understand exactly, in fine detail, what he needs to do to get better.

Gafford is the total package to the point where the Wizards should have utmost confidence in his ability to reach his ceiling, whatever it ultimately is. Now they are ensuring that when he does enter his prime, it will be in Washington.

Gafford is signed through his Age 27 season, meaning he will be playing for the Wizards through his mid-20s. If he becomes one of the best defensive players in the NBA or an All-Star, he will do so in D.C. and on a team-friendly deal.

To further contextualize how long Gafford will be with the Wizards, they currently have no other players signed through the 2025-26 season. He's now signed in Washington for longer than Juan Soto is. There are only four D.C. athletes with contracts that run to 2026: Stephen Strasburg, Alex Ovechkin, John Carlson and Gafford.

By giving Gafford such a commitment, general manager Tommy Sheppard and the Wizards are making him a central part of their organization's future. He's part of an emerging group of young players on the roster with recent first round picks Rui Hachimura, Deni Avdija and Corey Kispert plus Thomas Bryant who is expected to return from ACL surgery early this season.

Gafford now has the longest deal of all of them. He's officially a franchise pillar, a building block the Wizards hope will help them piece together a championship contender someday.

Gafford is now on board for the long haul. The Wizards made a fairly sizable bet, but likely a safe one.