It is games like Saturday's in New Orleans that convinced the Wizards to give Daniel Gafford an early contract extension. In October of 2021, they signed him to a three-year, $40 million deal which will kick in next season. That is going to be a bargain if he can produce as he did against the Pelicans.
Gafford was nothing short of dominant in the Wizards' 113-103 win. He had a season-high 21 points, tied a season-high with 12 boards and also added five blocks. He had three blocks in a span of three minutes and 16 seconds in the third quarter, as the Wizards held off a spirited push by the Pelicans.
Gafford controlled the game on the defensive end while nearly tearing the rim off on offense. He soared through the lane to demolish an alley-oop lob by Bradley Beal in the second quarter. It was one of his best dunks of the season so far and there have been many to choose from.
Gafford continues to thrive since being promoted to the Wizards' starting lineup. That change was made on Dec. 20 and the Wizards have won 11 of the 17 games he has started. Before the adjustment by head coach Wes Unseld Jr., the team had lost 10 straight games.
Since becoming a starter, Gafford has averaged 11.7 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game. He continues to score with remarkable efficiency. After shooting 8-for-11 from the field on Saturday, he is now at 74.2% on the year.
That would be tied for second in NBA history for a single season if he had enough field goals to qualify for official leaderboards. You need 300 field goals over the course of an entire season and he's 18 shots behind pace, but catching up now that he's in the startling lineup and playing more.
Gafford's recent play has helped the Wizards compensate admirably for the loss of Kristaps Porzingis. 'The Unicorn' is currently out with a left ankle sprain, but the Wizards have won three straight games without him. They are 6-2 on the year this season when he is absent, an excellent mark considering he's one of their best players.
Gafford has done an especially good job of backfilling the defense the Wizards lose with Porzingis out. Gafford has protected the rim very well, with nine blocks across his last two games. It is the first time he's done that since the end of the 2020-21 season when he joined the Wizards at the trade deadline and helped spark a playoff run.
Gafford is the only Wizards player to have a streak of games with four or more blocks in the last 10 years, the last beside him being Marcin Gortat in 2013. Wizards fans may find this amusing; do you know who owns the Wizards/Bullets franchise record for consecutive games with four or more blocks?
That's a fairly easy one, of course. Manute Bol twice averaged over 4.0 blocks per game in a Bullets uniform, including his rookie season in 1985-86 when he blocked 5.0 shots per game. Bol had separate streaks of 19 and 15 games blocking four shots or more. He put up some legendary shot-blocking numbers.
Gafford isn't quite on that level yet, but he's giving the Wizards exactly what they need from him at the moment. He's staying out of foul trouble, blocking a lot of shots and making defenses pay around the rim.