It's only four games, but Daniel Gafford looks like ideal fit for Wizards

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Chase Hughes
·5 min read
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It's only four games, but Gafford looks like ideal fit for Wizards originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

On the first day of Denver Broncos mini-camp in 2006 (follow me here), fourth round pick Brandon Marshall made his practice debut. The 6-foot-5 wide receiver with agility and speed made quite the showing, as afterwards future Hall of Fame cornerback Champ Bailey went up to head coach Mike Shanahan with a simple question:

"What did he do?"

Bailey couldn't believe he was a fourth round pick, it didn't make sense. There had to be a reason why 31 other teams passed on him. Had he gotten in trouble? Was there some blatant character flaw (besides having a poor grasp of the NBA salary cap)?

Some Wizards fans may be thinking the same thing as they watch 22-year-old Daniel Gafford tear it up for his new team. Acquired on March 25 from the Chicago Bulls at the trade deadline, Gafford has been a revelation so far, albeit in only four games.

The Wizards are 3-1 when he plays, as he's averaged 12.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game all while shooting 74.1 percent from the field and all while being on a tight minutes restriction. He's only playing 15.8 minutes per game as the Wizards work him into shape.

That makes peeking at his per-36 minutes numbers more interesting. Per-36, he's averaging 27.4 points, 11.4 rebounds and 3.4 blocks per game. That's quite good.

The Wizards had to part with their 2018 first-round pick Troy Brown Jr. and at-times promising center Moe Wagner to get Gafford, but that seems like a small price to pay if he continues performing the way he has. Gafford has given them an athletic big man with high upside who doesn't turn 23 until October and is under contract for two more years after this.

"I love the game of basketball. I come out and just work my tail off as much as I possibly can. I’ve got a defensive mindset first and I worry about offense second," Gafford said after scoring 15 points on 6-for-8 shooting in a win over the Jazz on Monday.

Think about that; defense first. There aren't many players on the Wizards roster who you might say that about. Most of their top players are much better on offense. Gafford helps balance that out and allows their scorers to do what they do best.

Gafford, though, has also helped the Wizards offensively, as evidenced by his scoring average. He can sky above the rim and make alley-oops look easy. In the first half on Monday against Utah, Bradley Beal fired a laser of a pass just inches from the rim on the fastbreak. It presented a high degree of difficulty for Gafford, who had to catch the ball and put it through the basket while running full speed. He completed the play.

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"I haven’t had a lob threat in my whole career. I like the fact I can just throw the damn ball up to the rim and he can go get it, even if it’s a horrible pass," Beal said.

That element helps players like Beal in various ways. As Beal explained, having the threat of Gafford can change the way players like center Rudy Gobert defend the Wizards. Gobert is a two-time defensive player of the year, but Beal felt he had more breathing room on Monday because of Gafford.

"He has to respect his man. A lot of times a lot of teams will have their bigs stay with me until I pass the ball. But he has to respect that his man will dunk the ball all night if he’s not respective in that fashion. We just constantly try to make it tough and put the pressure on the defense downhill," Beal said. 

"Gaff is a good catch guy; finish, catch and look. He has great control with the ball. Just having him has been terrific. He’s a quick learner, fast learner. A super athlete, as we all know."

Gafford, again, has only played four games for the Wizards. He's not the first young, recent draft pick the Wizards acquired because another team was ready to give up on them. Usually, these types of players reveal their flaws over time. They play more games and then everyone begins to realize why their former team didn't want them.

Gafford, however, so far looks like the total package for what the Wizards want him to be which is a big man prospect that can improve their long-term outlook, particularly on the defensive end. Right now, he's checking off all the boxes.

In addition to having length and the ability to play above the rim, Gafford also seems to have the instincts to match. He has quick hands around the rim to alter shots from different release angles. And he hustles back on defense with impressive speed baseline to baseline.

He also seems hungry to get better, which is always important for a player at the stage of his career.

"They brought me here because of what I can do on defense. They brought me here to do my job, so that’s what I’m going to do," he said.