Daniel Gafford knew he needed a bounceback game.
Entering Friday’s game against the Grizzlies, he’d averaged just 7.5 points per game with 4.2 rebounds. He wasn’t involved in the game as much he wanted to be.
But in a 115-87 win at Capital One Arena, he felt like himself once again. He tallied 15 points and four rebounds in 23:23 on the floor, as he landed a few monstrous alley-oops.
“I felt a lot more into the game than I’ve usually been,” Gafford said. “The last couple of games, I’m sure everybody has seen, I haven’t been in-tune with everything we’ve been doing on the floor. Just really taking a mental restart. Being able to come out and lock in and really just focus on the things that I do good and do them at a high level.”
His performance was noticeable for everyone who saw him, too.
“His effort, his focus and intensity was terrific,” coach Wes Unseld Jr. said. “I could tell this morning he was looking for a bounceback game. He’s always going to play with that energy, but there was more purpose and focus behind it. I think if he can do that nightly, he’s a difference maker.”
After being traded from the Bulls to the Wizards last season, Gafford carved out a nice role for himself coming off the bench. This year, he’s started all seven games he’s been available for.
And when Gafford is in the lineup, there’s no secret what he can provide.
“His ability to change shots, he’s not taking himself out of position, he’s being disciplined with his help, he’s still going to challenge and make plays in the paint and around the rim,” Unseld said. “But you go on the offensive end, not getting overly eager, staying spaced, taking advantages of opportunities to rebound and get second chance opportunities. He’s not trying to post up every time or clog the paint. He’s letting the game come to him and I think that’s a sign of maturity.”
Gafford, 23, has made just 25 starts in his NBA career. In fact, he’s never played a full NBA season due to COVID-19. He’s still learning about the NBA game and picking up whatever he can as he gains more experience.
Friday, the Wizards got an up-close look at what Gafford at his best looks like. And they’ll certainly take more of that.
“A lot of us are our own toughest critic,” Bradley Beal said. “There’s nothing you guys could say or write or think that we already don’t think, or do, or have thought of ourselves. He’s the same way. He’s wired that way. He holds himself to a high standard. He knew he had a big matchup tonight. He had his hands full and he knows he can elevate his game, we all can. For Gaff to be able to retaliate and come back the way he did, that’s a great sign.”