Washington Wizards center Daniel Gafford’s 3-year, $40 million contract extension is kicking in at the start of the 2023-24 season. Gafford has been a productive big man since joining the Wizards at the 2021 trade deadline. The 24-year-old is coming off a career season but the Wizards need him to continue to get better to warrant his contract and role with the team.
Gafford was one of the most efficient players in the league, shooting 73.2 percent from the field. His finishing around the rim is elite, having converted 82% of his shots within 4 feet of the basket. Considering he is also one of the best offensive rebounders in the league, consistently averaging over 2 a game, his offensive presence in the paint has been a huge weapon for the Wizards.
Gafford needs to expand his shooting range
Despite all this, Gafford needs to figure out how to be more than a rim roller and lob finisher. He took zero three-pointers and only ten shots outside 14 feet last season, one of the lowest numbers of any player in the NBA. Considering his soft touch in finishes and decent free-throw shooting of 69%, there is no reason to believe that he couldn’t expand his range.
The appeal to keep Gafford around the rim to provide an alley-oop option and an offensive rebound threat is certainly understandable. But for a team that doesn’t have too much shooting to begin with, Gafford’s inability to step outside the paint clogs the driving lanes for the Wizards. Players like Deni Avdija, Johnny Davis, and Delon Wright need spacing to be effective offensively, and Gafford only being a threat in the dunker spot is making things difficult for them.
Expecting a player who has never made a three-pointer in his professional career to suddenly take threes is unrealistic. However, Gafford could easily add a respectable mid-ranger to his arsenal. That should be the next step in his game offensively.
On the defensive end, Gafford has long been a great shot blocker, averaging over a block for every season of his career. His 2.2 blocks per 36 minutes last year ranked 12th in the entire league. Yet, Gafford’s rim protection is not always reflected in his defensive impact. Since he joined the Wizards, team defensive efficiency has been worse with him on the floor than off for every single season.
Gafford needs to become a better defensive rebounder
The two main areas of improvement there are defensive rebounding and strength. Even though he is a wonderful offensive rebounder, he is not good at boxing out and securing boards on the defensive end. His subpar defensive rebounding is related to his strength. Despite being 6’11, Gafford is not the strongest big man in the league. He can get pushed around for post and rebounding position. He tries to make up for this with his long arms and shot blocking, but it is often not enough. He has to become a more complete defensive center rather than a shot-blocking specialist.
Gafford is only 24 years old and big men can take a long time to perfect their games, especially defensively. Gafford should improve, but how much will be a question Washington will be keeping an eye on.
It is critical for the Wizards to have positive value contracts during the rebuild, so watching Gafford’s development if he is worth the $13 million a year contract will be fascinating.