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What should we make of Wizards center Daniel Gafford?

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And a Wizards PPA update for the nerdly inclined.

Detroit Pistons v Washington Wizards
New Wizards center Daniel Gafford going to the bucket.
Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

If you’re blown away by the 121 minutes Daniel Gafford has played so far and want to continue believing he’s going to solve the team’s big man issues, you might want to stop reading now or skip down the Player Production Average update.

If you’re looking for someone to blame for what follows, point your poison pixels at Ron Oakes-Cunningham, who begged me to do this.

If you just want the PPA update, hit Ctrl+F (or Command/⌘ +F for you MacOS/Applephiles) and type the words “Player Production Average.”

With the warnings out of the way, it’s not really dire. Gafford’s been good with the Wizards — a PPA of 128 (see below). As regular readers know, in PPA average is 100 and higher is better.

Here’s Gafford’s PPA progression thus far in his brief career:

  • Rookie year: 75
  • Chicago this season: 106
  • Washington this season: 128
  • Overall this season: 111

For a 22-year old who figures to be mostly a backup center, that’s a pretty good start to his career.

What does the Statistical Doppelgänger Machine say? Here are the top comps for his rookie year (you may want to avert your eyes):

  1. Steven Hunter, age 21 — Orlando Magic
  2. Steven Hunter, 23 — Phoenix Suns
  3. Keith Closs, 23 — Los Angeles Clippers
  4. Randy Breuer, 24 — Milwaukee Bucks
  5. Sean Williams, 21 — New Jersey Nets

After that, the most prominent names are Kevon Looney at age 21 (ranks 7th in “most similar”), Robin Lopez at 20 (9th), Jermaine O’Neal at 21 (10th), and Montrezl Harrell at 22 (11th). Moving into less similar territory are young seasons from Stromile Swift, John Salley, Kelvin Cato, Richaun Holmes, Chris Wilcox, and so on.

The comps from the Chicago portion of this season are a modest improvement. Here’s the top five:

  1. Drew Eubanks, 22 — San Antonio Spurs
  2. Quincy Acy, 22 — Toronto Raptors
  3. Robert “Time Lord” Williams, 22 — Boston Celtics
  4. Jakob Poeltl, 22 — Toronto Raptors
  5. Isaiah Hartenstein, 21 — Houston Rockets

Skimming down for prominent names higher on the list, I find seasons from Looney, Shavlik Randolph, Khem Birch, David Lee, Greg Ballard (how’d he get in here?), Trevor Booker, Jermaine O’Neal, and Steven Hunter.

Here’s who’s on the list if I run The Machine on his FULL 2020-21 season (saving his 121 minutes with the Wizards for last):

  1. Jelani McCoy, 21 — Seattle Supersonics
  2. JaVale McGee, 22 — Washington Wizards
  3. Robert Williams, 22 — Boston Celtics
  4. Drew Eubanks, 22 — San Antonio Spurs
  5. Shavlik Randolph, 23 — Philadelphia 76ers

Just outside the top five are seasons from Tyler Zeller, Ed Davis, Etan Thomas, Nerlens Noel and John Henson.

Now we’re up to the comps from only his stint with the Wizards. Have I saved the best for last? You bet.

  1. Montrezl Harrell, 24 — Los Angeles Clippers
  2. Jahlil Okafor, 23 — New Orleans Pelicans (okay, we’ll ignore this one)
  3. Ivica Zubac, 21 — Los Angeles Lakers
  4. Zach Randolph, 21 — Portland Trail Blazers
  5. Stromile Swift, 24 — Memphis Grizzlies
  6. Enes Kanter, 23 — Oklahoma City Thunder
  7. JaVale McGee, 25 — Denver Nuggets
  8. Stromile Swift, 23 — Memphis Grizzlies
  9. Brandan Wright, 21 — Golden State Warriors
  10. Christian Wood, 24 — Detroit Pistons

While Gafford reminds some fans of Clint Capela, the Doppelgänger Machine doesn’t really see the resemblance. The closest they are to similar was looking only at Gafford’s time with the Wizards, and that was just 94th “most similar.” It’ll be interesting to revisit this after the season.

While the comps overall are less than stellar, the important thing to keep in mind is that Gafford is long, fast and a great leaper, who’s also come to D.C. playing with intensity and effort. With his physical tools, an outstanding NBA career is realistic...if he puts in the work on his body and game.

Player Production Average

Player Production Average (PPA) metric credits players for things they do that help a team win (scoring, rebounding, play-making, defending) and dings them for things that hurt (missed shots, turnovers, bad defense, fouls), each in proper proportion to how much it contributes to winning or losing.

PPA is pace neutral, accounts for defense, and includes a “degree of difficulty” factor that rewards guys for playing more difficult minutes. There’s also an accounting for role/position. In PPA, 100 is average, higher is better, and replacement level is 45. It usually takes a score of 200 or higher to be part of the MVP conversation.

The PPA score is not saying one player is “better” than another in terms of skill, ability, athleticism, or replaceability (if the players hypothetically switched teams or were placed on a hypothetical average team). Rather, PPA shows production so far this season in terms of doing things that help teams win NBA games.

Wizards PPA through April 17, 2021

WIZARDS GMS MPG LAST PPA
WIZARDS GMS MPG LAST PPA
Bradley Beal 47 35.4 156 154
Daniel Gafford 7 17.3 197 128
Thomas Bryant 10 27.1 124 124
Russell Westbrook 49 35.4 106 120
Alex Len 41 16.2 98 98
Robin Lopez 56 20.0 81 84
Raul Neto 50 20.2 79 78
Dāvis Bertāns 41 24.5 63 75
Ish Smith 28 20.3 65 72
Rui Hachimura 47 31.7 79 69
Garrison Mathews 50 17.8 83 68
Cassius Winston 16 5.5 70 64
Deni Avdija 52 23.4 41 49
Jordan Bell 4 16.5 34 47
Anthony Gill 18 5.3 47 40
Isaac Bonga 35 11.4 11 7
Chandler Hutchison 6 18.7 45 -5
TRADED/RELEASED
Moritz Wagner 25 15.0 80 80
Troy Brown Jr. 21 13.7 17 17
Jerome Robinson 17 17.9 -7 -7
Anžejs Pasečņiks 1 6.0 -339 -340
Kevin Broom