From the moment Daniel Gafford appeared in his first Summer League game, it became clear that the Bulls walked out of the 2019 NBA Draft with a serviceable talent. Then, on November 18th, when head coach Jim Boylen finally decided to give Gafford a real dose of NBA minutes, it became even clearer that the Bulls walked out of the 2019 Draft with one of the best second-round talents.
Go ahead and refresh your memory:
Yup, that was Gafford – in his first real NBA game – scoring 21 points against the best team in the league. The guy dunked six times, scored on the Lopez brothers, and blocked the reigning MVP at the rim. I mean … wow.
The rest of the season had its ups and downs, and the big man fell victim to some inconsistent usage and unfortunate injury trouble (remember how Jim Boylen didn’t want to call a timeout when Gafford was lying on the ground in pain?). All things considered though, for a No. 38-overall pick, we have no reason not to be optimistic about his role moving forward.
A quick look at the stats, and it’s clear to see how useful Gafford turned out to be for this Bulls team. He was by far the squad’s most efficient scorer, shooting an impressive 70.1 percent from the field. Compare that to his fellow rookies, and Gafford sits comfortably at No. 1, with the next closest being New Orleans Pelicans center and No. 8-overall pick Jaxson Hayes at 66.0 percent. Now, go ahead and compare his efficiency to the rest of the NBA, and his effective field goal percentage is in the 96th percentile, per Cleaning the Glass. Perhaps there’s a legitimate sample-size argument to be made here, but I believe the broader point remains.
On the other end of the ball, Gafford is proving to be another valuable rim-protector for this Bulls team (the other being Carter Jr., of course). He totaled 56 blocks on the season and averaged 1.3 a night, good enough to lead all rookies. And similar to his field goal percentage, Gafford found his name among the NBA’s best, finishing first in block percentage (70%) and 3rd in blocks per 36 minutes (3.3) among players who appeared in 40 or more games. With numbers like these, Gafford is in the same conversation as top-notch shot-blockers like Rudy Gobert, Hassan Whiteside, and Brook Lopez.
Of course, I’m not ready to say the Bulls have the next Defensive Player of the Year on their hands, but Gafford sure has the makings of the league’s next sparkplug big man. I’m talking about guys like Montrezl Harrell, Enes Kanter, and Mitchell Robinson. In fact, I could see Gafford easily turning into the Bulls next Taj Gibson (think about role more than the style of play). Players like that carve out a long, important place for themselves in the NBA.
I know the guy should probably get through a fully healthy sophomore season before we get too excited about his future, but I just can’t help but feel optimistic. I love the way he operates in the pick and roll. I love his ferocious dunking. I love his shot-blocking capabilities. And I love his confidence (check out his interview last month with Pig Trail Nation … it’s splendid).
With a new player development squad on the way and an overall fresh start, I feel as excited about Gafford’s potential as I do almost anyone on this roster. I mean, hey, it also doesn’t hurt that Arturas Karnisovas has a little experience turning a second-round pick into an MVP-caliber player (Nikola Jokic)! Did I really just try to compare Gafford to an MVP? Time to log off.