Staying out of foul trouble has long been a stated goal for Wizards center Daniel Gafford and lately he's been doing just that. Part of it may be pure necessity, as the team's other two centers have been out with Montrezl Harrell in health and safety protocol and Thomas Bryant rehabbing from ACL surgery.
But Gafford has also made some adjustments recently with the help of a Wizards' assistant coach and one of the greatest players of all-time. After a game last month where Gafford got into foul trouble, he got a text the next day from Wizards assistant Dean Oliver. The message: watch how former Spurs great Tim Duncan used to play defense.
"[Oliver] sent this to me, it was how Tim Duncan would usually go for blocked shots. He would go for shots that he would block and then he would stay down on the floor for times when he knew he couldn’t block a shot. So, I kind of tapped into that and figured out ways I could do that myself and put myself in position to have longer stints on the floor instead of coming out early with two fouls," Gafford explained after Wednesday's shootaround.
In recent weeks, Gafford has cleaned up his fouls. After averaging 2.7 fouls in his first 26 games, Gafford has averaged only 1.9 fouls in his last eight. During that stretch, he had three games with just one foul and one, against the New York Knicks, where he didn't record a single foul.
That represents the progress he's been looking for.
"My main thing is to keep myself on the floor as much as I possibly can to help the team. I want to compete, I want to be out there helping the team battle, so staying out of foul trouble is a big thing personally for me," Gafford said.
The fact watching Duncan helped him is noteworthy in part because Gafford is only 23 years old. He wasn't even born when Duncan's NBA career began. While he watched Duncan growing up and said he was inspired by his consistent effort every night, he hadn't studied much of Duncan's game since he became a pro.
Maybe there is more he learn from watching the 'Big Fundamental.'