NBC Sports Chicago is breaking down the 15 full-time players on the Bulls' roster. Next up is Daniel Gafford.
Past: Zach LaVine | Coby White | Tomas Satoransky | Kris Dunn | Ryan Arcidiacono | Otto Porter Jr. | Chandler Hutchison | Denzel Valentine | Shaq Harrison | Thad Young | Lauri Markkanen | Wendell Carter Jr.
5.1 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 1.3 BPG | 70.1% FG, N/A 3P, 53.3% FT | 13.1% USG
July 2019: Signed 4-year, $6,129,593 contract (last two years non-guaranteed)
2020-21: $1,517,981 | 2021-22: $1,782,621* | 2022-23: $1,930,681*
Gafford was one of the few wholly positive stories for the Bulls this season, save for some injury troubles and a recent jab at Jim Boylen over Twitch (though, if we're being real, that might have won him some favor with a segment of Bulls fans). A second-round draft choice in 2019, he burst into the rotation on Nov. 18 in place of an injured Luke Kornet after weeks of bouncing back-and-forth between the G League, and showed out, notching 21 points (10-12 FG), five rebounds, two blocks (one on Giannis!) and a flurry of jams against the mighty Bucks.
Lol at Giannis thinking he can float it over Gafford pic.twitter.com/sY7vW0aI9j— Bulls Talk (@NBCSBulls) November 19, 2019
That appearance showed you all you need to know about the virtues of Gafford's game. He's a high-flying dunker that pressures the rim as a roller and corrals lobs with a wider catch radius than most. His bunnies and activity level make him a pretty imposing shot-blocker, too. In just 609 minutes of action, Gafford led all rookies in blocks (56) and ranked fourth in swats per 36 (3.3) among players who appeared in 10 or more games. He already has the makings of a draft-day steal and a quintessential, cost-controlled backup bigman option.
As Kris Dunn told me the night of his coming out party against Milwaukee: "He brings a whole other dynamic to our team. He's a forceful roller… [and] defensively, someone gets blown by, we know we got help-side with him, we know he's gonna come over and try to deflect the ball."
Oh, and also: "He can dunk the sh*t out of the ball."
Areas to Improve
Like the man he understudies in Wendell Carter Jr., Gafford can stand to work on his verticality and tendency to over-reach, defensively - his 2.3 personal fouls per game translates to 5.8 per 36. But the fix there is teachable, and we're talking about a rookie who smashed expectations left and right in Year 1.
Otherwise, as prolific as Gafford's inside game is, adding a bit more outside touch could behoove him. He shot 74.2% inside the restricted area this season (for a Bulls team that struggled finishing, awesome), but took only 10 shots away from the rim. That's certainly not a necessary requirement for him to provide value, but a serviceable post, floater or mid-range game could raise his ceiling. Bumping his free throw percentage from 53.3% (60 attempts), at least, should be a focus.
His perimeter defense could be one, too. Gafford's reach and athleticism kept him afloat in the Bulls' aggressive defensive system, but his next step to being a truly impactful defender at the center spot could be getting his feet more fluid in space. Again, these are knitpicks. If Gafford is what he is, but improves at a reasonable rate, he's a fun and useful NBA player.
Clint Capela feels the obvious comparison, but I'm not sure there's a more apt one. Run, roll, dunk, and swat shots with energy, and Gafford should enjoy a long NBA career. The Bulls should count themselves fortunate for the opportunity to have the first four years of it at such an affordable rate.
All the reasons Bulls Daniel Gafford is proving to be a second-round steal originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago