76ers

2019 NBA draft profile: Arkansas C Daniel Gafford

2019 NBA draft profile: Arkansas C Daniel Gafford

Position: Center

Height: 6-10½

Weight: 237

School: Arkansas

There was a chance Daniel Gafford could’ve been a first-round pick had he left Arkansas after his freshman season. Instead, Gafford came back for another season to try to refine his skills and improve his outside shot.

He increased his averages across the board and though his free-throw shooting was still poor, it did improve with even more attempts. He followed up making the SEC All-Freshman Team by earning spots on the conference’s First Team and All-Defensive Team.

He averaged 16.9. points, 8.7 rebounds and two blocks a game in 2018-19. His per 40 minute numbers stood out over his two collegiate seasons: 22.4 points, 11.6 rebounds and 3.3 blocks. He shot well over 60 percent as a Razorback.

Strengths

The two best words to describe Gafford are active and bouncy. He’s as athletic as they come and his motor is incredible. He’s able to get off the floor in a hurry and has a freakish second bounce which comes in handy for blocking shots and hitting the offensive glass.

This sequence against Vanderbilt was super fun:

He should be able to fill a role immediately at the pro level as a rim-running center. His movements are fluid on both ends of the floor. He seems to have decent instincts and possesses strong hands to finish dunks and secure rebounds. You can see a little Nerlens Noel to his game, though he comes into the league more solidly built.

More of intangibles, but he does play with energy and fire. He seems like the kind of player that Philadelphia would take to.

Weaknesses

There are a ton of tools and solid basketball instincts, but, like Noel, there’s also a lot of rawness — especially offensively. He has a decent spin move and understands positioning, but most of his scoring comes off him just being stronger and more athletic than his defender.

Part of the reason he went back to school was to improve his jumper. The free throw shooting progressed, but it only went up from 53 to 59 percent. He was more willing to take mid-range shots, but his form is still rough. He does have decent touch. Couple that with his improved free throw percentage and there may be hope there.

Defensively, discipline could be a concern, though he went from 3.3 to 2.8 fouls a game. He looks like he has decent enough feet to become a strong defender, but he over challenged at the rim and reached unnecessarily on the perimeter. He’s strong at 233 pounds, but he’ll likely need to put on a little more weight to deal with NBA fives.

Gafford decided to skip the NIT and there have been questions about his maturity.

Fit

The Sixers need a backup center and Gafford could fill that role. He’ll be 21 on Oct. 1, so he won’t be the youngest rookie in the league. If he’s coachable at the next level he could harness his athleticism into becoming a more disciplined defender. 

The biggest issue the Sixers ran into during the playoffs was finding a backup five that moved his feet. When Joel Embiid was off the floor in the postseason, the team’s defense struggled mightily. Gafford could help mitigate that with his athletic traits and activity level. He’s projected as a fringe first-rounder so No. 24 is a possibility. He may also be available in a trade-back scenario or he could linger into the second round.

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Sixers Injury Update: Joel Embiid, Josh Richardson out for Saturday's game vs. Cavs

Sixers Injury Update: Joel Embiid, Josh Richardson out for Saturday's game vs. Cavs

The Sixers will be down two starters Saturday night when they return to Wells Fargo Center to play the Cavs.

Josh Richardson will miss his fifth consecutive game with right hamstring tightness, while Joel Embiid is out with a left hip contusion.

A team source told NBC Sports Philadelphia that Embiid reported discomfort after the Sixers' 119-113 loss to the Wizards on Thursday night and is being treated for the injury.

Embiid had 26 points, 21 rebounds and eight turnovers Thursday.

Richardson and the Sixers have been cautious with his hamstring. He told reporters in Washington, D.C., that this is the first hamstring injury he's dealt with and admitted that it's been a frustrating process.

“A hamstring is one of those things where you can think that you’re fine and then you take a wrong step and it’s a week or two-week setback," he said. "I don’t really want to get into that whole cycle. ... It’s just one of those things where I just don’t really know where I’m at most of the time. It always feels like I’m tiptoeing, trying not to do too much.”

The Sixers' preferred starting five of Embiid, Richardson, Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris and Al Horford have played just 102 minutes together this season, posting a plus-21.3 net rating. 

Furkan Korkmaz has started the past four games in place of Richardson. Without Embiid, the Sixers will need to plug in another spot starter and perhaps search for further big man depth. Kyle O'Quinn hasn't played since Nov. 23, but he might be called upon vs. Cleveland.

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How Joel Embiid can improve with the subtleties of screening and rolling

How Joel Embiid can improve with the subtleties of screening and rolling

The Sixers, through 22 games, have run the fewest pick-and-rolls in the NBA, and at the worst efficiency

Joel Embiid is in the bottom top 10 percent of the league in efficiency as a roll man. 

None of those stats are encouraging at first glance.

That said, are there any positive signs for Embiid’s progress as a screener and a roller? And how can he get better?

Rolling isn’t always the right option

While Brett Brown said after practice Wednesday that he wants Embiid “screening and rolling more than popping,” rolling isn’t always the right option for the All-Star center.

Because Ben Simmons frequently stations himself in the “dunker spot,” Embiid often needs to float out behind the three-point line for the Sixers to maintain proper spacing.

When opposing big men drop on the pick-and-roll, there’s typically not much to be gained by Embiid rolling.

Embiid pops on the play below against the Raptors, and it’s a reasonable move with Marc Gasol dropping into the paint on Josh Richardson’s drive. Ultimately, the bigger issue is he settles for a mid-range jumper instead of either taking an open three or putting pressure on Gasol to guard a drive to the rim. 

A game-winning variation  

Before Richardson’s hamstring injury, the Sixers were incorporating the action above more into their offense. It’s a basic look — Richardson rubs off a screen to the top of the key, then Embiid steps up to give him a ball screen. 

Embiid’s game-winning dunk on Nov. 12 vs. the Cavs came from a smart variation. After Embiid’s roll to the rim, he set a strong down screen for Tobias Harris, flowing into a perfectly executed high-low.

On most of the occasions Embiid rolls to the rim and doesn’t receive the ball initially, a deep post-up is the next best option. Instead of finding Embiid on the high-low Nov. 15 in Oklahoma City, Al Horford swung the ball to Harris and created a good angle for a post catch. Embiid will score or get fouled in these positions more often than not. 

Getting snug

The “snug pick-and-roll” is, in theory, a way to allow Embiid and Simmons to both be near the rim at the same time without the only result being claustrophobic spacing. 

Embiid set a hard screen on RJ Barrett, forced the desired switch and got an and-one Nov. 29 against the Knicks. 

“We've been trying to do that bit by bit over the years,” Brown told reporters. “I think that you have a deep pick-and-roll with those two, a lot of times they do switch. I thought Ben did a good job of finding that and if they don't switch you got Ben going downhill, and we're trying to just continue to work on his finishing. And it is a look that I think, especially in crunch-time environments, interests me a lot.” 

The obvious problem with the snug pick-and-roll is there’s minimal space for anything to develop. Simmons has little margin for error with his first read. 

Though Embiid eventually had the switch the Sixers wanted against the 6-foot-5 Malcolm Brogdon on the play above, Simmons had already committed to a righty jump hook on Myles Turner and didn’t have room to change his mind. 

Developing the tricks of the trade 

Embiid’s value as a roller increases against teams that aggressively hedge the pick-and-roll.

He didn’t even roll very far on this play from Nov. 8 in Denver — just a couple of feet after screening for Richardson — but the scheme the Nuggets were using meant Will Barton had to tag Embiid before flying out to Furkan Korkmaz. Barton couldn’t recover in time.

Embiid’s chemistry with his new teammates is predictably not yet at an advanced stage. Richardson has a tendency to snake back in the opposite direction of his initial drive, and Embiid still seems to be figuring that out. 

They were on different wavelengths here. 

Since Embiid draws so much respect from opposing defenses, many pick-and-roll actions involving him are going to be inelegant. Especially late in games, teams often know what’s coming and load up to stop it.

He can still be helpful in those situations by focusing on doing the simple things. The technique isn’t textbook on this play, but his screen on Donovan Mitchell gets the job done. 

One of the next steps in Embiid’s evolution as a screener and roller will be applying a few of the dark arts that are prevalent across the NBA, whether it’s stealthily using his upper body like Horford or giving the ball handler space to drive by sealing his man in the lane.

He did the latter well vs. Larry Nance Jr. and the Cavs. 

As a 7-foot, 280-pound player with diverse offensive skills, Embiid is a threat as a roller, at least on paper.

It often won’t be as easy for him as just rolling with purpose to the rim and being rewarded with dunks, but he’s shown he has the ability to help himself and his teammates get good looks. 

For Embiid, it’s clearly important to work on dealing with double teams, refining his post game, limiting turnovers and hitting open three-point shots at a decent rate. 

But the 25-year-old big man also has plenty of room to improve as a screener and roller. 



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