Wizards use rare Kristaps Porzingis and Daniel Gafford pairing vs. Hornets

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Wizards use rare Porzingis-Gafford pairing originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

Before Monday's game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Wizards head coach Wes Unseld Jr. was asked in his pregame press conference if it was possible he would utilize a combination of Kristaps Porzingis and Daniel Gafford, the team's top-two centers, on the floor at the same time. The reason for the question was because Washington was facing Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert, Minnesota's two All-Star big men.

Unseld Jr. said it was indeed possible, though he never went that route in the game. Granted, he didn't need to make creative adjustments, as the Wizards got off to a hot start and rolled through a lopsided victory.

Unseld Jr. also has a tendency not to rule things like that out when they are asked. By not shooting it down, it keeps other teams guessing. It's gamesmanship.

But just two games later, Unseld Jr. did indeed go with a Porzingis-Gafford combo. For the first time this season, they shared the floor in the second half of the Wizards' loss to the Hornets. This time, Unseld Jr. was searching for an answer to the Hornets' front line of Mason Plumlee and Nick Richards, as Washington was pummeled through the first half on rebounds and points in the paint.

Porzingis and Gafford ended up helping the Wizards nearly erase a large deficit to steal a win on the road. The Wizards were down 22 points to the Hornets, but cut the lead to one late in the fourth. Porzingis and Gafford each played the entire fourth quarter, going +18 in the box score as a duo.

In that fourth quarter, both players had six rebounds and Gafford had three of his six total blocks for the game. The Hornets scored only 10 points in the final frame. It was the fewest points the Wizards have allowed in a quarter this season.

While Charlotte had 52 points in the paint on the night, they only scored six of them in the fourth quarter. Porzingis and Gafford can each protect the rim and together they provided enough resistance to take away what had been working for the Hornets through the first three quarters of the game.

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Given that it worked so well, the question now is whether Unseld Jr. will deploy his two-center lineup again and, if so, how often. Porzingis and Gafford played together twice last season for a total of 14 minutes. The Wizards then didn't use it again until the 23rd game of this season.

Based on how Unseld Jr. has operated so far, it appears the supersized big-man duo is an "in case of emergency" option. That means it may depend solely on whether the Wizards desperately need a jolt in the lane.

The Wizards' paint defense has operated fairly well this season with Porzingis and Gafford split between the first and second units. Washington is fifth in paint points allowed (46.9/g) this year. They are also third in points allowed in the restricted area (15.3 FG/g) and fifth in percentage allowed in that zone (62.9).

Basically, it's not a necessity to switch anything up in that area if what they are doing is already working. Playing Porzingis and Gafford together could also have domino effects on the rest of the rotation, as both have well-defined roles. Unseld Jr. also needs to consider how they fit together on offense, not just on defense.

But some matchups may call for it and it's interesting to note their next opponent, the Lakers, happen to be especially good at scoring in the paint. While the Hornets are sixth in the NBA in paint points (54.0/g), L.A. is second (56.1/g). Anthony Davis is third among all players in paint points (17.3) while LeBron James is ninth (13.3).

If the Lakers find early success against the Wizards around the rim, maybe Unseld Jr. will go back to the Porzingis-Gafford lineup, given that it has already worked for him once.