Starting Kristaps Porzingis and Daniel Gafford working wonders for Wizards

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Porzingis-Gafford lineup working wonders for Wizards originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

It started as an experiment, was moved to the starting lineup and has now resulted in something two Wizards/Bullets teammates have not done in 35 years.

It turns out Kristaps Porzingis and Daniel Gafford make quite the duo. No matter which position you assign to them, or the order of their names, the pairing has given the Wizards a significant boost in what amounts to a jumbo starting lineup with the 6-foot-10 Kyle Kuzma at small forward.

Porzingis and Gafford have led the Wizards to four straight wins in the starting lineup, the last two being blowouts. And on Friday night in Orlando, they each blocked four shots, becoming the first Wizards/Bullets teammates to do that in the same game since 2012 (JaVale McGee, Kevin Seraphin).

Porzingis, who scored 30 points, also had 13 rebounds, while Gafford reeled in eight. No Wizards/Bullets teammates have had at least four blocks and eight rebounds in a game since 1987 (Manute Bol, Charles Jones). Ironically, Manute's son Bol Bol was playing for the Magic.

In spite of that, the Magic actually won the battle of paint points (62-to-46). Still, they got demolished on the boards (53-to-35) and it wasn't enough to offset a terrible night shooting from three (5-for-27, 18.5%).

Wizards head coach Wes Unseld Jr. said earlier in the week he would give the Porzingis-Gafford pairing at least five games in the starting lineup before making a decision on whether to keep it. He's likely already seen enough with now a four-game sample size.

There is more context beyond them starting together, of course. Unseld Jr. first got a glimpse at the two-center combination last season and this year waited until Dec. 2 in a loss at the Hornets to deploy it.

But the evidence of them being a successful combination continues to accrue. After this game, Wizards lineups with Porzingis and Gafford have a net rating of +31.6 this season, meaning they had outscored opponents by 31.6 points per 100 possessions. That is through 10 games and 101 minutes, per NBA.com

There have been some observable benefits from the Porzingis-Gafford duo in their time together so far. Clearly, their rim protection stands out as both players can block shots and also alter many more. Having two rim-protectors around the basket is going to be a natural deterrent for opposing teams, the type of blockade that will make players think twice about attacking the rim against the Wizards.

But they also seem to complement each other nicely on the offensive end. With Gafford setting screens and rolling to the rim, and also working out of the dunker's spot, Porzingis is able to roam more freely, hunting 3-point shots and mismatches in the post. They create an inside-out scoring combination that is tough for teams to stop, especially with Kuzma's mobility and passing running a thread through the middle.

But Gafford has also proven able to give Porzingis a break on the defensive end. Against the Sixers, we saw him matchup extensively with Joel Embiid. That kept Porzingis out of foul trouble and saved his energy, as Gafford was the one constantly trying to push back against one of the game's largest and strongest players.

Gafford also took the brunt of defending Deandre Ayton in the Wizards' win over the Suns on Wednesday. He then got the Bol assignment against Orlando.

The Wizards have now played 10 games this season with Porzingis and Gafford on the court together for varying lengths of time. At some point, they will encounter challenges in adjustments made by other teams. Opponents may go small against them to counter with speed and shooting.

Washington will know more over time just what they have in the Porzingis-Gafford twin tower lineup, but right now it is clearly working, so they might as well keep using it.