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Gafford’s floor and ceiling, according to the Doppelgänger Machine?

2021-22 Washington Wizards Media Day
Wizards center Daniel Gafford
Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images

One of this season’s more interesting storylines is what Daniel Gafford will be. His post-trade performance with Washington was good overall, the best he’s played in the NBA and a small sample size (408 total regular season minutes in a Wizards uniform).

His playoffs performance was encouraging — productive and efficient (he shot 84.6% from the floor in the series) — despite consistent foul trouble and going against Joel Embiid.

While there was much excitement about his defense, the limited sample size suggests more flash than substance. The Wizards were about the same defensively (113.8 points allowed per 100 possessions without him; 112.8 with him on the floor). Their defensive efg was unchanged (.538 without; .540 with) and their defensive rebounding was significantly worse (79.5% without; 72.5% with). Even their blocks were basically unchanged. When he was out there, Washington got a few more steals and opponent turnover percentage went up.

In the playoffs, the Wizards were...well “better” isn’t the right word...less awful on defense when he was on the floor. With him, they had a defensive rating of 118.4. Without: 126.3.

Gafford is loaded with potential, of course. He just turned 23 years old, and his length, athleticism and ability to catch and finish at the rim suggest that at minimum he’ll contribute as a rim-running jolt of caffeine off the bench. Best case, he’s the next DeAndre Jordan — a rim-running jolt of caffeine in the starting lineup.

Something else to chew on: While Gafford did play better in DC than he had in the previous season-and-a-half with the Chicago Bulls, his Wizards performance wasn’t a radical improvement.

Daniel Gafford 2020-21

GAFFORD CHI WAS
GAFFORD CHI WAS
MPG 12.4 17.7
Ortg 128 134
Usg 15.6% 19.4%
efg .690 .681
ft% .659 .672
fga 11.0 15.7
fta 5.2 7.6
orb 5.6 5.7
drb 7.5 8.9
reb 13.0 14.5
ast 2.2 1.4
stl 1.4 1.7
blk 4.3 4.7
tov 2.8 2.2
pf 6.8 5.0
pts 18.6 26.5
ppa 108 130

Stats in the table are per 100 team possessions.

Last season with the Bulls, Gafford was hyper-efficient on offense, collected a high number of offensive boards, blocked a bunch of shots and committed too many fouls. In Washington, he had the same overall profile, though he did a little better on the defensive glass and cut back a bit on the fouling.

His usage shot up because of Russell Westbrook. Last season, Westbrook assisted a Gafford basket 42 times in 304 minutes together — 30 times on at-rim buckets. The next closest assist/score combo involving Gafford was Coby White, who assisted Gafford 13 times in 259 minutes together.

Stated differently, Westbrook assisted Gafford at the rate of 6.6 times per 48 minutes. White: 2.4.

One more nugget: Gafford had 94 made regular season field goals in Washington. Westbrook was the passer on 44.7% of them.

While Westbrook gets credit for the uptick in Gafford’s usage, Gafford should get his due for the finishing. He shot 70.1% from the floor as a rookie, 69.0% last season in Chicago, and 68.1% with the Wizards. His career shooting is 69.1% on 359 attempts. This is in part because two-thirds of his shots come at-rim (where he converts at a 77.9% rate) and another 30% of his shots come from within 10 feet. His career average shot distance is 2.5 feet.

I make the point that Gafford’s overall performance with the Wizards wasn’t a radical departure from what he did in Chicago because it’s actually encouraging. The numbers indicate that he was figuring out how he could play effectively in the NBA, and that he may have gotten a little better at it when he got to DC.

While the departure of Westbrook may cut into his usage, good scheming from the ultra-prepared Wes Unseld Jr. and another year of experience make Gafford a likely candidate to continue making progress.

For Gafford’s doppelgängers, I’ll first provide a list from his full second season and then a quick list from just his time with the Wizards. There’s going to be some overlap because, as previously mentioned, his performance didn’t change significantly. For the most part, his closest comps are relatively low minutes per game young centers (with a sprinkling of interior PFs) who block shots, get offensive rebounds at a high rate, and have elevated fouls. His closest comp...is just weird.

  1. Mike Gminiski, New Jersey Nets, 1982-83 — My memory had Gminski as a skilled but plodding big man. When I looked at the pace-adjusted stats, I could see the resemblance, though. Gminski wasn’t as efficient and didn’t finish as well inside, but he got offensive rebounds and blocked a bunch of shots. This is a more encouraging comp than some might think, by the way. This season was his first of 10 seasons that rated average or better in my PPA metric. His best season was a 170 in 1985-86. (In PPA, 100 is average and higher is better).
  2. Jaxson Hayes, New Orleans Pelicans, 2020-21 — Hayes is a couple years younger, and their production was quite similar last season though Gafford was better overall.
  3. Javale McGee, Washington Wizards, 2009-10 — McGee had outlandish physical tools but hadn’t figured out how to manage his attention deficit disorder. He was reasonably productive for a second-year big man, despite the awe-inspiring gaffes.
  4. Ed Davis, Memphis Grizzlies and Toronto Raptors, 2012-13 — Big, athletic, plays hard. Checks all the Gafford-like boxes, except for Gafford’s hyper-efficiency on offense.
  5. Javale McGee, Washington Wizards, 2008-09 — Sensing a theme? This was McGee’s rookie year. Remember, this is looking for similar style of production, not personal maturity.
  6. Richaun Holmes, Phoenix Suns, 2018-19 — Holmes won’t make any All-Star games, but he’s been average or better for the past five seasons. The Wizards could do worse in the middle. They often have.
  7. Robin Lopez, Phoenix Suns, 2009-10 — This was Captain Hook’s first of eight average or better seasons, so long ago he moved more like an avalanche than a glacier. At his peak, he had four straight seasons with a PPA in the 150s.
  8. Kenny Williams, Indiana Pacers, 1992-93 — I don’t remember Williams, who played fairly limited minutes in four NBA seasons. Three of those seasons were reasonably productive his PPA scores by season: 59, 88, 106 (this season), 84. Then he was out of the league.
  9. John Henson, Milwaukee Bucks, 2014-15 — Henson’s game would have made him a good pre-2010 PF when they didn’t have to be able to shoot threes. Even without the three, he was consistently above average until injuries wrecked his last two seasons and ended his career at age 29.
  10. Brandan Wright, Dallas Mavericks, 2011-12 — Proficient scorer who collected offensive boards and blocked lots of shots despite a spindly frame. He missed loads of games with injuries, which ultimately ended his career at age 30.

And, here are Gafford’s comps using only his play with the Wizards:

  1. Mike Gminski, New Jersey Nets, 1982-83
  2. Brandan Wright, Golden State Warriors, 2008-09
  3. Brad Miller, Charlotte Hornets, 1999-00
  4. Carl Landry, Houston Rockets, 2007-08
  5. Zach Randolph, Portland Trail Blazers, 2002-03
  6. Javale McGee, Washington Wizards and Denver Nuggets, 2011-12
  7. Robin Lopez, Phoenix Suns, 2009-10
  8. Javale McGee, Denver Nuggets, 2012-13
  9. Ivica Zubac, Los Angeles Lakers, 2018-19
  10. Richaun Holmes, Phoenix Suns, 2018-19

Overall, results from the Doppelgänger Machine, which searches for similar production at a similar age, suggest Gafford’s floor is that of a solid reserve big man with the potential to be a borderline All-Star if he puts in the work. With Thomas Bryant out to start the season, Gafford should have plenty of minutes as a starter to show what he can do.

Poll

Who’s next through the Statistical Doppelgänger Machine?

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  • 19%
    Raul Neto
    (17 votes)
  • 27%
    Bradley Beal
    (24 votes)
  • 52%
    Deni Avdija
    (45 votes)
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