After the Wizards traded for big man Daniel Gafford at Thursday's deadline, guard Bradley Beal marveled at how Gafford might be the most athletic big man he's ever played with in the nine years he's spent in Washington. Beal envisioned throwing alley-oops to Gafford, who is 6-foot-10 with the ability to play well above the rim.
It didn't take long for Beal to put that into action. In Gafford's Wizards debut on Saturday, he and Beal connected on a first-half play where Gafford threw down a lob from Beal off a pick-and-roll.
Beal wasted no time trying out his new weapon.
"They can throw it to the moon and I’ll go up there and bring it back down to earth," Gafford said.
That dunk was part of an all-around strong first showing for Gafford, who had 13 points, five rebounds and three blocks in the win. He gave the Wizards just what they were looking for when they acquired him. He was a force in the paint on both ends of the floor, providing a different element from the Wizards' other centers with his speed and leaping ability.
Gafford's rim protection has been his standout skill so far through two NBA seasons. This year, he's averaging 1.1 blocks per game in only 12.4 minutes. He has blocked 3.3 shots per 36 minutes in his career.
Though the Wizards have made strides protecting the rim this season with Robin Lopez and Alex Len in the middle, Gafford's ceiling as a shot-blocker is higher. He can jump, has long arms and has shown solid instincts for altering different types of shots.
Gafford is by no means a finished product, and there are reasons why the Bulls, who aren't good, were willing to give up on him already. He's a raw talent who will require some coaching to reach his full potential at just 22 years old.
But he made an excellent first impression on Saturday and helped key the victory for Washington. The Wizards were up by three points when he first entered the game in the first quarter. By the time he left in the second quarter, they were up 14. That lead would eventually grow to 30.
"He did an amazing job. He did a good job of protecting the rim," Russell Westbrook said. "Obviously, his size and athleticism showed tonight, which is big for us. It’s something that we need. I hope he feels good about how he played because he played great."
"He had just a fantastic game. It was a great first game for him," head coach Scott Brooks said. "We’re going to keep working with him. He’s definitely a keeper. He has a chance to be good for a lot of years with his skillset."
Given Gafford's age, unrefined skillset and the fact he's under contract for two more seasons after this, the Wizards trading for him was more about the future outlook of the team than the short-term. He could help them improve defensively, but it's unlikely he will move the needle significantly all by himself.
But long-term, the Wizards have another prospect with a high ceiling and one that plays a position of need. In an ideal scenario, he would develop at the five as a potential complement to Rui Hachimura at the four. Hachimura already sees potential in them as a duo, saying Gafford makes him feel like there's security behind him on defense.
"It’s going to be fun to play with him. I’m so excited to play with him," Hachimura said.