Wendell Carter Jr. will miss tonight’s game against the Hornets due to a quad injury, which means Daniel Gafford could start in his place. But while that’s surely a reasonable one-night, special circumstance decision, there are those who seem to believe there’s actually a conversation to be had here. There is not.
Where’s my “Daniel Gafford-Should-Start-Over-Wendell-Carter-Jr. crowd?”
Look, you’re entitled to your opinion (however wrong it may be). And While I understand that Gafford provides the highlight-reel making plays, he isn’t going to do a better job than Carter Jr. in the starting lineup. Plain and simple.
I think we can all agree Billy Donovan is (1) a good coach and (2) a competent basketball mind, and there is a reason you have seen him pick and choose Gafford’s matchups this season (indeed, that selection is probably WHY Gafford is succeeding so). The guy relies heavily on his athleticism and instinct, as opposed to his footwork and eye for the game. Carter Jr. can not only read and react better on defense, but he’s helped the improved flow of this Bulls offense, as well. I’ve seen a couple of folks try to say Carter Jr. isn’t a good passer, but he has the third-highest AST% on the team and it falls within the NBA’s 77th percentile.
As for the plentiful knocks on Carter Jr.’s shooting, I know he may not be what we hoped from 3, but he is hitting 53 percent of his mid-range buckets (83rd percentile). Those turnaround free-throw line jumpers have been money for Carter Jr. all season.
Gafford, on the other hand, has basically no jump shot, and his assist percentage sits at 5.2 percent. Throw in the rebounding percentage on both sides of the ball – which I think some might assume Gafford is better strictly due to his flashy aggressiveness – and Carter Jr. blows Gafford out of the water. Carter Jr. has an fgDR% (defensive rebounds) of 20.6 compared to Gafford’s 8.9, per Cleaning the Glass. Carter Jr.’s fgOR% (offensive) is at 9.0 percent, which ranks in the 62nd percentile … Gafford is at 6.9 percent which ranks in the 47th percentile. The Bulls are currently ranked 13th in rebounds per game and 3rd in defensive rebounding percentage. Do you think that’s because of the Gaff-attack?
Let me be clear, I LOVE Gafford. Really. I think he is an awesome off the bench sparkplug, a second-round steal, and someone the Bulls should certainly keep around. At the same time, think about a player like Montrezl Harrell, who is basically the way better version of Gafford. He doesn’t even start, folks. Harrell may clock big minutes, but there is a reason both teams he has been on in recent years wanted a more all-around center on the floor to start the game (Lakers signed Marc Gasol, and the Clippers went with Ivica Zubac).
The point being, even a more elite version of Gafford isn’t a consistent starter, and it’s because that kind of player fits a different kind of role so nicely. The pressure off the bench is low, and he also gets to reserve his energy for an impactful and exciting 15-20 mins/game. That’s important.
I could ramble about this for another 500+ words, but I also pretty much consider this to be a non-debate, so I probably shouldn’t feed into things anymore. If you have your problems with Carter Jr. as the Bulls center, so be it. The answer, however, isn’t Gafford. Well, except maybe for tonight.