If you’ve watched any Washington Wizards games over the past three weeks, you might have noticed the team plays with a certain energy. Especially on the defensive end, which they seemed to lack earlier this season, they are a different team. According to head coach Scott Brooks, it shouldn’t be a mystery why Washington has a new vigor: the acquisition of big man Daniel Gafford.
“It was a big trade, give Tommy Sheppard a lot of credit. Gafford has been huge. He’s been a big difference-maker on both ends of the floor,” Brooks said to the Wizards Pregame Live crew ahead of the Wizards’ battle with Detroit on Saturday.
The trade, which shipped potential budding stars Troy Brown Jr. and Moe Wagner to Chicago in exchange for Gafford and Chandler Hutchison, has looked to be a genius move by Washington’s GM, especially given Gafford’s success in D.C. In the six games since Gafford arrived in the nation’s capital, the big man has averaged 11.7 ppg and 5.5 rpg while shooting 60% from the field in just under 18 minutes per game—a sharp increase from his production in the windy city.
Especially of note was Gafford’s essential shutdown of Pelicans’ star Zion Williamson in the closing stages of the Wizards’ overtime win on Friday night.
“[Gafford's] a lob threat, he’s a two-way player and he’s young,” Brooks said. “It’s a great pickup for us. We haven’t had a guy like that, that can really go out and get a lob…He’s playing with two good guards and it kind of helps him.”
Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal seem to be crucial to the 22-year-old’s development in Washington. Westbrook, especially in the overtime period against New Orleans, complemented Gafford’s defensive efforts on the offensive side of the ball, making big plays and enabling Washington to get the win.
Since Gafford arrived from Chicago, the Wizards have gone 5-1 with him available to play. Is that a coincidence? Maybe, or perhaps Gafford provides the young, tenacious defending Washington has needed to make a push for the playoffs.