Bulls rookie Daniel Gafford ready for bigger role if Carter injury lingers

Bulls rookie Daniel Gafford ready for bigger role if Carter injury lingers

NEW ORLEANS --- The more Daniel Gafford plays, the more his play screams “10-year NBA veteran.”

Gafford plays within himself. He runs the floor hard. He sets good screens. He blocks shots and tries to dunk everything.

In short, he knows who he is.

“Really, just focus on being consistent and make sure I do better things on defense from the game before,” Gafford said in a recent interview. “And whatever I do well on defense is going to help me offensively.”

Gafford helped the Bulls offensively in Monday’s road loss to the Mavericks, scoring 13 points on six dunks in a season-high 25 minutes.

That season high for playing time may not last long. With the Bulls ruling Wendell Carter Jr. out for Wednesday's game against the Pelicans with a sprained right ankle, Gafford will likely start. Gafford played through his own rolled left ankle against the Mavericks, telling people afterward that he felt OK. He's listed as probable for Wednesday.

“He’s a tough guy,” coach Jim Boylen said.

He’s also a skilled guy, whose athleticism and shot blocking ability is making opponents notice. Gafford has multiple blocks in three straight games and six of the last seven. He averages 1.3 blocks in just 12 minutes.

“Be a real energy guy,” Gafford said of his focus. “Do my things on defense. Do my things on offense. Catch lobs. Do a lot of dunking. Do a lot of screening. Block some shots.”

Sounds easy, huh? That’s what playing within yourself will do, and the second-round pick has done that consistently since Boylen gave him his first opportunity.

“He’s been great,” Boylen said. “He gives us vertical spacing. We want the floor to be bigger to guard. We want to spread it. We want to play vertically and make defenses guard more of the floor. So when he’s playing that way, it really helps us.” 

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Bulls observations: Zach LaVine and Coby White nearly lead epic comeback


Bulls observations: Zach LaVine and Coby White nearly lead epic comeback

After a lackluster first half, the Bulls nearly staged the comeback of the season behind 76 points from Zach LaVine and Coby White. But ultimately, the Thunder prevailed 124-122. Observations:

Daniel Gafford needs to stay out of foul trouble

Jim Boylen again stressed at shootaround this morning the importance of the Bulls defending without fouling. As a team, they entered play dead last in the NBA in opponent free throw rate, and conceded 28 charity stripe trips to the Thunder when they met on Dec. 16. 

Daniel Gafford has been among the biggest culprits in that area. Since re-entering the regular rotation (from injury) after the All-Star break, Gafford has averaged 4.8 fouls per game, including a foul-out in 16 minutes against Charlotte in his first game back. Tonight, he picked up two in the first three minutes of the game and a third early in the second quarter en route to just five first-half minutes (and 14 total). He finished the night with four personals. 

That’s a problem for a Bulls team thin on the front line and struggling defensively. In Gafford’s stead, Cristiano Felicio played 33 minutes, and though he posted an admirable six points and nine rebounds, most would agree — for the sake of both development and staying competitive — Gafford minutes are preferable. As a team, the Bulls committed 25 fouls and sent the Thunder to the line 30 times, though that was boosted by having to play the foul game late.

The sweet life of Zach and Coby rolls on

Another game, another torrid combined performance from Zach LaVine and Coby White. This one was especially fun.

LaVine poured in 41 points on 19-for-35 shooting, White a new career-high 35 points on 13-for-21 (6-for-9 from 3-point range). As the Thunder rained hellfire from long-range and otherwise picked the Bulls’ defense apart early, those two kept the team afloat on the other end. Then, they keyed a whirlwind of a comeback in the third. 


In that third quarter, LaVine notched 19 points on a preposterous 9-for-11 shooting; White had three timely 3-pointers — each eliciting exponentially louder roars from the United Center crowd. Play them together as many minutes as humanly possible down the stretch of the season… When they’re ‘on’ in unison, it’s downright electric.

Also worth mentioning is this is White’s third 30-point game in a row. He’s set, matched, then re-set his career-high scoring totals in each of the last three games. That type of momentum is immensely encouraging in what had been a tumultuous rookie season. 

This time, it was the Bulls’ turn for a comeback

The Thunder put on an absolute offensive clinic in the first half — canning 11 of their first 15 3-pointers, assisting on 19 of 26 made buckets and committing just five turnovers. Danilo Gallinari was en route to a career night (he had 17 points on 5-for-5 from 3 in the game’s first six-and-a-half minutes) and the Bulls’ defense again looked woefully undermanned. 

But that third quarter swung the game for a bit. The Bulls won the period 38-19 behind the aforementioned contributions from LaVine and White, and also four Oklahoma City turnovers. The hosts held the Thunder to 36.8% shooting from the field (1-for-8 from deep) in the period after they shot 63.4% in the first half.

In these teams’ first meetup of the season, the Bulls coughed up a 26-point lead late on the Thunder’s home floor. Tonight, it was their turn to flip the script — that is, until the end.

Ultimately, not a bad loss

The Thunder eventually ground out a nail-biter of a 124-122 win behind a litany of crucial plays by Chris Paul (19 points, nine assists) down the stretch. With the loss, the Bulls drop to 20-39 on the season and 1-9 in their last ten. But against a really good Thunder team — they’re now 36-22 and have won nine straight on the road — this isn’t one to hang heads about.

LaVine catching fire — and nearly pulling off a Charlotte-esque barrage in the game's final minute — another scorcher of a game from White, and clawing back after such a lackluster first half is enough to take solace in given where we are with this team. Let’s enjoy the ones we can and take the silver linings as they come.

Next up: The Knicks in New York on Saturday.

Jim Boylen remains resolute in development goals for Bulls season

USA Today

Jim Boylen remains resolute in development goals for Bulls season

The Bulls entered Tuesday night's matchup with the Oklahoma City Thunder 20-38 and 1-8 in their last nine games. But head coach Jim Boylen, for his part, remained resolute — even optimistic — in comments to assorted media before the game.

“It is a win-loss league, but that’s not the only thing that gets evaluated,” said Boylen, who owns just a 37-79 record at the helm of the Bulls. “Are we establishing a style of play? I think we have. Have we cleaned up our defense that needed to be cleaned up? I think we have. Have we established a shot profile that’s top five in the league? I think we’re three right now in the shots we get compared to other teams. So those are all positive things.

“And then you can look at the what-ifs, which I don’t do very often. With our shot profile, what would Otto Porter do in that shot profile? He’d be pretty successful, and Lauri Markkanen, and right on down the line. I’m not worried about my personal record or my win-loss record. I’ve been asked to establish a style of play, to have a disciplined approach and develop a young group of guys.”

Boylen then went on to cite the progress of Coby White, Daniel Gafford and Cristiano Felicio as positives over the course of the season. And that’s fair. Still, his verbiage is a noticeable shift from before the season, when the playoffs were a stated goal.

“It is hard for me. But that’s not my calling. That’s not what they ask me to do,” Boylen said when asked if stacking losses has been hard for him as a competitor. “Nobody in this organization said to me, ‘You got to win this many games.’ Nobody said to me, ‘Hey, we’re going to talk about wins and losses all year.’ Not one time have they said that to me.

“That doesn’t mean we don’t want to win. It doesn’t mean we’re not trying to win, but nobody said that to me. I have to honor the organization with trying to do this thing the right way. If we do that and if we can get healthy, I feel good about it.”

What was and will be said behind closed doors can be speculated upon. What can’t be argued: The Bulls are 5.5 games out of the eighth seed, have beaten one above-.500 team this year and a playoff gasp is unlikely. And though Boylen alluded to how good Markkanen and Porter might look in the context of the team’s current shot profile, we saw Markkanen’s fit in practice for 46 games. With the caveat that he was battling nagging injuries all season, the results for the third-year forward were regression across the board. The team was 3-6 when Otto Porter Jr. fractured his foot on Nov. 6.

All of the above and more have culminated in reports of potential organizational change in the offseason. The exact nature of that change has yet to be determined, as does Boylen’s future with the team if the front office, coaching staff or player personnel is overhauled. 

But Boylen said his win-loss record being used against him in that evaluation would be a surprise.

“Yes, it would,” he said. “I don’t foresee that happening.”

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