Rob Schaefer

Daniel Gafford makes his case for an increased role in loss to Bucks

Daniel Gafford makes his case for an increased role in loss to Bucks

Jim Boylen seemed pretty sure of what he was getting from Daniel Gafford when he announced he would be available for the Bulls’ Monday night matchup with the Bucks.

“Just run somebody over, knock somebody down, play hard,” Boylen said of his expectations for Gafford. “I’m expecting Daniel, besides maybe a few nerves, to have a smooth transition into what we do and who we are.”

What he got was much more: One night after playing 31 minutes for the Windy City Bulls in Long Island, the rookie from Arkansas posted 21 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 blocks on 10-for-12 shooting against one of the league's most fortuitous frontcourts in the Bucks. He led the Bulls in scoring and threw down six dunks (tied for the highest single-game total by a player this season), each one seemingly more vicious, timely and acrobatic than the last.

But the nerves? Non-existent. In fact, Gafford fit into the Bulls’ three-guard sparkplug bench unit like a glove.

“If you throw it anywhere near the rim, he’s gonna go get it,” Coby White said. “Everybody trust[s] him, so that’s all that matters. You gotta trust your teammates.”

“He can dunk the sh*t out of the ball,” Kris Dunn said.

 

Gafford was active every second of his 20:58 on the floor, hunting screen-and-roll opportunities, rebounds and lob-passes, as if for sustenance. He even said after the game that, energy-wise, he could have handled a weightier minutes total, if needed.

“That’s just the practice and stuff we do every game,” Gafford said of the chemistry between the lineup of him, White, Dunn, Ryan Arcidiacono and Thad Young — a unit that posted a 150.0 offensive rating in 12 total minutes together on Monday. “All the time, we always building relationships...

"I didn’t really have to say anything, they already knew what my plan was… Just go get anything off the rim.”

Even in defeat, Gafford played to a level beyond even his wildest supporters' dreams, corralling one-handed alley oops, mopping up missed shots by teammates and providing security coming over from the weak-side in the Bulls’ aggressive, blitzing defense.

The Bulls offense, too, was 22.2 points per 100 possessions better with Gafford on the floor — he sets solid picks and attracts rare defensive gravity on rolls to the rim. And even though the ancillary defensive metrics weren't ground-breaking, he showed flashes of being the type of player that can anchor the undersized three-guard lineups that Boylen loves to utilize, without sacrificing the level of activity and athleticism that makes the purest form of this Bulls defense so difficult to deal with.

“He brings a whole other dynamic to our team,” Dunn said. “He’s a forceful roller… [and] defensively, someone gets blown by, we know we got help-side with him, we know he’s gonna come over and try to deflect the ball.”

 

As he did before the game, Boylen credited Gafford’s instruction with schematically similar Windy City for preparing him to take full advantage of this opportunity. Now, the question becomes: With Luke Kornet likely to miss at least 7-10 days, can Gafford continue to expand his role with this team, moving forward? 

“I think he made a great case for himself today,” Dunn said. “As long as he just keeps working hard, keep doing what he’s been doing, staying disciplined, I think good things are gonna keep happening.”

“I still got a lot more left,” Gafford said. “Whenever I get my chance again, I’m gonna do the same thing.”

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Three observations: Bulls come up short against Bucks — again

Three observations: Bulls come up short against Bucks — again

For the second time in less than a week, the Bulls played the Bucks close, but came up just short — this time falling 115-101 at the United Center. Three observations from a soul-crushing loss:

Daniel Gafford: Free man

If I dumped all the expletives I have written in my notebook about Daniel Gafford from this game, you’d never read another article under this byline.

So, while I catch my breath, here are the hits:

 

 

 

Gafford ended the game a -4 in 20 minutes, but it’s hard to overstate the impact he had on a particularly electric Bulls bench in this one. He was every bit the gumptious, brick-bodied big that Jim Boylen billed him as, and so much more. Every second without the ball in his hands on offense, his feet were moving — setting screens and leveraging rebounding position. In the air, every shot, pass or lob within five feet of him seemed to find his hands, and then — rather violently — the bottom of the net.

At one point, en route to his team-leading 16 first-half points, a fan behind me exclaimed: “Him and Giannis are going at it!” In reference to… Daniel Gafford. What a night.

Gafford ended his stellar breakout performance with 21 points, 5 rebounds, 2 blocks and approximately 2.716 million hearts stolen, on 10-for-12 shooting.

The three-guard lineup provides a spark

At the very beginning of the season, Boylen’s utilizing of a three-guard lineup (Kris Dunn-Coby White-Ryan Arcidiacono) was widely panned. Tonight, that group — with contributions from Thaddeus Young and a combination of Wendell Carter and Gafford at the center spot — proved their mettle. 

In the first half, that lineup catalyzed a 20-8 run that pulled the Bulls from down nine with 2:17 remaining in the first quarter to up two with 8:05 to go in the second. In the fourth quarter, a torrid stretch by Arcidiacono and White vaulted the Bulls from down 98-90 to up 99-98 in a matter of 66 seconds, sending the UC in a frenzy not seen in quite a while.

The Bucks pulled away from that point on, but this lineup showed something tonight — so much so that Boylen closed with White and Arcidiacono both on the floor along with Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter. (Stunningly absent was Tomas Satoransky, who logged only 18 minutes tonight after coming out of the gate aggressive, offensively.)

Arcidiacono was on every loose ball in sight. White was a blur in transition and coming off screens and dribble handoffs. Combined, they shot 7-of-11 from long distance. Maybe Boylen is on to something.

Bulls melt down the stretch

The Bucks finished the game on a 17-2 run after that aforementioned White-Arcidiacono blitz. For most of the game, the Bulls were able to hang around despite being out-shot from three and on the wrong end of a 35-14 free throw disparity, but their energy waned late in the game. Despite miraculously out-rebounding the Bucks 50-48, out-scoring them in the paint 50-46 and competing defensively throughout, the Bulls couldn’t buy a bucket down the stretch (they failed to score a field goal in the final six minutes), and it ultimately cost them.

The blame is shared in this one. Lauri Markkanen and Zach LaVine combined to shoot 6-for-28 from the floor (only 0-for-4 in the fourth) and were largely outplayed by the bench unit. 

In a performance reminiscent of last Thursday’s in Milwaukee, the Bulls appeared to everything necessary to win on Monday. But they didn’t. Now, with a record of 4-10, the heat is on.

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Rims beware: Daniel Gafford is back with the Bulls, and likely to see action against the Bucks

Rims beware: Daniel Gafford is back with the Bulls, and likely to see action against the Bucks

Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks are in town, and reinforcements are on the way.

Those reinforcements take the form of Daniel Gafford, who was recalled from Windy City in the wake of Luke Kornet undergoing a procedure to address a sinus obstruction. 

"I'm excited for him," Jim Boylen said — with a smile — pregame, of Gafford. "He's just my kind of guy."

He certainly fills the archetype of a Boylen favorite: hard-nosed, athletic, defensive-minded — but in his time with Chicago this season, most of his playing time has come in garbage time (he's played 12 total minutes over four games this season). Boylen wasn't specific about how much run Gafford would see in his first game back, but committed to a four-big lineup (with Gafford sliding into the Kornet spot) and said the rook would likely see action in the first half.

"Just play hard, man," Boylen said when asked what he'd like to see out of Gafford in this stint. "Just run somebody over, knock somebody down, play hard."

Boylen went on to not only praise the skills Gafford brings to the table as a rim-protector and rim-runner, but also the positive attitude he maintained in the face of a tumultuous start to his rookie season. In three games across multiple short stints with the Windy City Bulls this year — playing in an offensive scheme that Boylen said closely aligns with the Bulls' own — Gafford averaged 17.3 points and 8.3 rebounds per game, while shooting a mind-bending 80.6% from the field.

"I went down there, did what I had to do, went for rebounds, basically did all the dirty stuff," Gafford said of his assignment. "I was trying to be a team guy, energy guy — my game."

That philosophy is like to come in handy against a long, rangy and supremely physical Bucks team that outscored the Bulls 70-32 in the paint when the two squared off in Milwaukee last Thursday. These are two of the highest-volume three-point shooting teams in the league, but Gafford knows his role will be that of an enforcer.

"Just coming in and being an energy guy, getting rebounds. Put pressure on the rim to where, 'Hey, you can't come in and just get anything easy,'" Gafford said of his role with the team.

The Bulls have struggled in all of those departments early in the 2019 season — they enter tonight the worst shooting team at the rim in the NBA, 28th in rebounding rate and 28th in blocks per game.

But tonight... Rims, basketballs, Bucks players and everyone and thing in between: Beware. Daniel Gafford is here, and he's taking names.

"You either gonna get hit, I'm gonna block the shot, or you're gonna have to dunk on me," Gafford said on visitors to the painted area he'll inhabit tonight. "If you dunk on me, I'll give you props, and we'll go down and get a bucket on you."

Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Bulls games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.