Why Daniel Gafford's 17 rebounds vs. Raptors are an important sign

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Why Gafford's 17 rebounds vs. Raptors are important originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

With Russell Westbrook and his 11.5 rebounds per game now no longer on the Wizards' roster, they are going to have to backfill that production somehow, some way. On Tuesday night against the Toronto Raptors, Daniel Gafford gave a strong indication he could be a major help in that effort.

Gafford brought in 17 rebounds against Toronto, which if it were in a regular-season game would have obliterated his career-high of 11. That came after he recorded just one rebound in 22 minutes in the Wizards' previous game against the New York Knicks.

Gafford averaged 5.6 rebounds in 17.7 minutes per game for the Wizards last season, good for a solid 11.3 per-36 minute average. But consistency will be key this season with him in the starting lineup and with Westbrook (and others who helped) elsewhere.

"Really just having a 'be better' mindset. The last few games, I really wasn't producing on the boards," Gafford said. "Being one of the guys that is starting, I need to be able to crash the glass and have a lot of energy into the game to be able to set a standard for the guys coming in so they can have the juice to come in. So tonight, I really just focused on being more physical and coming out of the game with tenacity on the boards."

Head coach Wes Unseld Jr. sees a lot of potential for Gafford on the glass. It's going to be a team effort with many others like Montrezl Harrell, Kyle Kuzma and Rui Hachimura needing to do their part. But the team has high hopes for Gafford and rebounding is going to be important for him as a key cog in the rotation.

Unseld Jr. noticed an intangible difference in Gafford on Tuesday compared to previous games.

"Just his overall effort and energy. That's who he is and that's how he has to impact the game," Unseld Jr. said. "Obviously, he can block shots, he can be a rim-protector for us, he puts pressure on the rim offensively. But just overall mindset, it's one of those things where the great rebounders, you've gotta assume that every shot is a miss. It's just a mindset that guys have. I think he's got the athleticism, it's just maintaining that mindset."

While Gafford had 17 boards, the Wizards still lost the rebounding category overall to Toronto 60-55 and also the game. It may be a work in progress early in the season as new players figure out how to play off of each other. There will be chemistry to establish between those boxing out and those crashing the glass.

Gafford, though, has proven to be a quick learner and rebounding isn't the only area he's showing progress in during the preseason. He is also expanding his shot-blocking repertoire by using both hands.

Gafford is a right-handed player, but blocked shots with his left hand in both Saturday's game against the Knicks and in Tuesday's game vs. the Raptors. He says it's something he's been working on.

"It's a bit rare. Usually, whenever I'm in position to block with my left hand, I just go for it," Gafford said. "[Usually] it's with my right hand. I'm just trying to be able to alter shots with both hand. That's really what's just going to help me excel, just being a shot-blocker. Just being able to alter shots on the left side of the goal, right side of the goal, either hand."

That right there embodies what the Wizards love about Gafford. He's far more than a super athlete. He's also obsessive about getting better and that bodes well for his future.