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2020-21 Wizards player evaluations: Daniel Gafford was the spark Washington needed, but can he take his game up a notch next season?

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The season’s biggest surprise came in a desperation trade deadline deal, that allowed the Wizards to pick up center Daniel Gafford. Gafford’s play was a welcome sight for a franchise that has struggled with finding effective centers.

NBA: Washington Wizards at Atlanta Hawks Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Sitting at 14-20 at the All-Star Break, the Wizards were desperate to jump start their season to fight for a playoff spot. The team looked as though it was destined for a disappointing season. In need of a shot in the arm, Wizards General Manager packaged Troy Brown Jr. and Moritz Wagner together as a part of a three team trade that netted the Wizards Chandler Hutchison and Daniel Gafford.

Gafford would go on to become the standout player in the trade, as he gave the Wizards a much needed jolt that helped put the team on the path to eventually becoming the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. After the trade, the Wizards went 20-18, including going 17-6 to end the season.

Season Evaluation

Daniel Gafford found a role as a center coming off the bench, who often played in the closing moments of many games during the season after he was acquired. Despite not starting, there were times during his run with the Wizards where he looked like the most effective center on the roster, which warranted his time during critical stretches of the game. Gafford lead the team in FG percent (68.1), Blocks per game (1.8), Effective Field Goal Percentage (84.6), and True Shooting Percentage (80.7).

To say that Gafford knew his role, would be an understatement. 179 out of his 225 (80 percent) shooting attempts as a Wizard during the regular season came within 5 feet of the basket. To take it even further, only 10 of those 225 shots were taken outside of 10 feet from the basket. Gafford made a concentrated effort to get to the basket and his teammates obliged to get him open looks. 72 percent of Gafford’s field goals were assisted. Gafford found his niche on offense and often allowed his teammates to set him up, which lead to his high efficiency on the offensive end.

On the other end of the floor, Gafford became a solid rim protector that, at times, made the Wizards an effective defensive team. His 1.8 blocks per game were done despite only averaging 16 minutes per game with the Wizards in the regular season. At that rate of blocked shots, he was averaging 3.4 blocks per 36 minutes. That number would be tied with the NBA’s league leader in blocks, Myles Turner.

If there were an Achilles’ heel to Gafford’s game, it would have to be his habit to pick up fouls, which showed up a few times during the Wizards’ playoff run. Gafford was second on the team in fouls per game despite playing nearly 11 minutes less per game than the Wizards leader in fouls per game, Rui Hachimura. Playing solid defense without fouling is going to allow Gafford to play longer and impact the game in the future.

Next Season’s Outlook

With the emergence of Gafford this season, the Wizards have a very fluid situation at center. Both Alex Len and Robin Lopez will be free agents. Additionally the team will get back center Thomas Bryant next season. With the glut of centers, there is likely to be an odd man out, but it is highly unlikely that Gafford would be on the chopping block.

Instead the biggest question will likely be, can Gafford become the starting center on this team? His skill set is vastly different than the other three centers aforementioned. With that said, perhaps the biggest issue with Gafford starting is his conditioning, which by his own admission needs work.

Should Gafford come into the season in better shape, he should have the inside track to being this team’s starting center next year and possibly for the foreseeable future. He will have more opportunities to play a bigger role and perhaps expand his skill set. At 22 years old, there is a lot to be excited about with Gafford. This season gave us just a glimpse of what he can be for this franchise going forward.