Lobs to Daniel Gafford have required adjustment for some Wizards

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Lobs to Gafford have required adjusting for some Wizards originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

When Daniel Gafford first arrived to the Washington Wizards after being traded at the deadline in March, he made a proclamation about one of his greatest skills with a metaphor inspired by the solar system.

"They can throw it to the moon and I’ll go up there and bring it back down to earth," Gafford said.

That has proven to not only be true, figuratively of course, but also helpful in building chemistry with new teammates on the fly down the stretch of the regular season. Gafford fit the Wizards like a glove and the vast margin for error he gives other players on lob passes is a big reason why.

Take Bradley Beal for instance. When Gafford was acquired, the Wizards shooting guard remarked how he had never played with someone like Gafford. That required an adjustment at first as he determined the best location and timing for throwing passes to Gafford around the rim.

The only experience Beal could really pull from was his days at the University of Florida. He played one season there and left in 2012.

"I don’t think in my whole life I’ve ever played with somebody I can throw a lob to. Maybe Pat Young in college, but other than that, nobody really," Beal said. 

"It’s always special when you have an athlete like that. He’s a quick jumper. He has long arms and he’s kind of able to save you in a lot of ways and just catch the ball and finish. That’s a gift of his, more than mine or the passer. He’s very gifted with his athletic ability. He uses it to his advantage. For me, it’s just trying to get it up to the rim a little bit higher and away from the defenders. He will take care of the rest."

Ish Smith has a lot more experience playing with guys like Gafford and you have seen it in his passes over the past two months. Smith has proven adept at not only lobs, but well timed pocket passes. He can consistently find Gafford in stride or in rhythm. For lobs, he gets it to Gafford when he's on the way up and throws the ball in a place where he rarely has to reach back or far to the side.

But just like Beal, Smith harkens back to his college days, when he played at Wake Forest.

"You gotta go all the way back to when I was in college. In college, I played with James Johnson and I played with Al-Farouq Aminu, both of those guys, David Weaver. All three of those guys were lob threats. [Head coach Dino Gaudio] had a great coaching staff. They used to always teach us the nuances of throwing lobs," Smith said.

"Then, when I got to the NBA, after I want to say my 20th team, I was in Philadelphia with Nerlens Noel. Me and Nerlens, we had a great synergy with throwing lobs and trying to figure out when he’s running the floor and different things like that. Playing with D.G. is relatively easy. He sets great screens, he runs the floor well. So for me, all I’ve gotta do is just draw two to me and throw it up, and sometimes they stay home with him, [so I] finish. It’s just a read, it’s just navigating through the ball screens and pick-and-roll. Just trying to find him in the right spot and making it easy for him."

The '20th team' reference was a joke about how many teams Smith has played for, which is actually 11 and ranks him second all-time behind only Tony Massenburg, Chucky Brown, Jim Jackson and Joe Smith in NBA history. Smith has seen it all in his time in the NBA, so playing with Gafford was nothing new.

And, again, Gafford isn't picky, which helps. Gafford said he didn't see the need to have any conversations with teammates when he first got to the team about lob passes. They found chemistry quickly and naturally, and Gafford thinks the guards deserve a lot of credit for that.

"The chemistry was natural, really. We’re still building," Gafford said.

"[They can] gain attention when they’re attacking the basket and certain things like that. It’s really good because we’re making each other look good at the end of the day."

What Gafford has been able to do with the Wizards in such a short time has been remarkable. Through 23 regular season games, he averaged 10.1 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.8 blocks. He dunked 42 times, with 31.9% of his total field goal attempts as dunks, the highest rate on the Wizards.

Given he's under contract for two more years (at an extremely team friendly $3.7 million in total), there will be more chemistry building in the coming seasons. So far, Gafford is off to a great start.