The Wizards used the rarely seen "three-headed monster" at center with Daniel Gafford, Robin Lopez and Alex Len in the 2021 season. While it’s unclear how many heads next year’s rotation will have, two guarantees appear to be Daniel Gafford and Thomas Bryant.
Gafford, the team’s trade deadline acquisition from the Bulls, arrived to D.C. with promise of an expanded role and capitalized on it in a big way. The athletic big man quickly became a fan favorite and played in 23 regular-season games, averaged 17.7 minutes per night and put up 10.1 points per game. He also had 1.8 blocks and 5.6 rebounds, all of which were career highs.
Bryant, in his third season as a Wizard, made 10 appearances (all starts) and played 27.1 minutes per night with 14.3 points and 6.1 rebounds per game before an ACL injury ended his season early. With a rehab process that can take upwards of a year, it’s unknown exactly when Bryant will hit the floor in the 2021-22 season.
But when he does, he’ll join Gafford in what makes for an exciting frontcourt duo for the Wizards — and one that won’t break the bank, either.
“There’s big enough excitement for us internally that (Gafford is) going to be a major piece moving forward for sure,” general manager Tommy Sheppard said earlier this month. “We look forward to having Thomas Bryant back healthy, that gives us two guys at that position that we know what they can produce, and we believe they can produce even more moving forward.”
Both Gafford and Bryant, while certainly not viewed in the same light as Rui Hachimura or Deni Avdija, have certainly stated their case to be looked at in the same lens as the Wizards’ last two first-round picks.
After the team’s season-ending loss in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, now-former coach Scott Brooks said he viewed Gafford as a lottery pick. As a constant lob threat and rim protector, especially one that has a base salary through 2023 that won’t exceed $2 million, he’s certainly a big-time value for the Wizards.
“If I stay locked in mentally and work on my consistency, I can be in this league for a long time,” Gafford said after the loss. “Probably a lot of people in the world that would disagree with that, but that’s their opinion. My opinion is that I’m going to make it in this league. That’s just that."
Bryant, on the other hand, is certainly more of a shooter than Gafford is. He attempted, on average, two 3-pointers per game this season before he went down with his knee injury. And both his two and three-point shooting percentages were on-track in the small sample size of the season to be career bests for him.
With Bryant in the lineup, the Wizards have a big that can space the floor and provide offense outside of the paint in a way that Gafford isn’t able to.
That, in turn, can give the Wizards a duo of bigs that are mighty difficult to deal with.
The 2021-22 regular season will be unique, not just because it will be the first normal season since 2018-19, but because they’ll finally be able to get all their young players on the court, both at Capital One Arena and at the team’s practice facility.
And, along with Hachimura and Avdija, both Gafford and Bryant are key fixtures of the team moving forward.
“Those four guys right there are all very young in their NBA careers, but they showed the potential to be part moving forward,” Sheppard said. “...There was some stunted growth because of the lack of practice time, and a lot of our games were very tight games this year. So you’re throwing guys normally you could be able to try and sneak them into games, it wasn’t there.”