Porzingis-Gafford center duo has high upside for Wizards


Though the Wizards lost to the Clippers on Wednesday night, Kristaps Porzingis and Daniel Gafford showed flashes of what should be Washington's one-two rotation at center for the foreseeable future, not just this season but beyond as both are signed to long-term contracts. The early returns are encouraging, not only in their production as a combo but in the way their skillsets complement each other.

On Wednesday, Porzingis had 19 points in 26 minutes on 8-of-14 shooting from the field. He knocked down 2-of-5 from 3-point range and added a block and a steal. Gafford came off the bench to post a line of 14 points, 10 rebounds, a block and a steal. He shot 7-for-11.

They both made an impact offensively, but got their points in different ways.

"I think it's a different feel," head coach Wes Unseld Jr. said. "K.P.'s able to stretch the defense and Gaff obviously puts a lot of pressure on the rim as a roller. Both have good length and size up front. But just the ability to mix and match, kind of give offenses and our offense a different feel, the defense a different look."

Porzingis had a similar assessment.

"Both of us are lob threats, but he's obviously a much bigger lob threat. I can stretch the floor more," Porzingis explained. "With him, whenever he's rolling to the basket it just draws so much attention because of that and guys get open looks just because of him. That's something not everybody sees, but he's very valuable in that sense."


Having two centers who can score in different ways is only part of why the Wizards have an emerging strength at center. Perhaps more noteworthy is the fact both can protect the rim. The Wizards now have two shot-blockers, which means they don't have to work around a liability in the paint.

It's a fairly rare combination. There are 12 players in the NBA this season averaging at least 1.5 blocks per game and Porzingis and Gafford are one of only two pairs of teammates in that category, the other being Rudy Gobert and Hassan Whiteside.

Most teams with shot-blockers don't have a second one coming off the bench. Porzingis and Gafford may not be perfect defenders, and the Wizards are far from an elite defensive team, but they do have that going for them.

With Porzingis as the starter, the Wizards have put Gafford back in a role he has thrived in. Since he joined the Wizards, the team is 19-9 when he comes off the bench compared to 23-27 when he starts. Last season, when they closed the year 17-6 with him in the lineup after acquiring him at the trade deadline, that was all when he was the No. 2 center.

Gafford can be a handful for opposing backup big men due to his athleticism and energy. He also happens to have good chemistry with Ish Smith, who runs point in the Wizards' second unit.

On Wednesday, Smith found Gafford three times for alley-oop lobs.

"Ish, he gets out in the pick-and-roll and he puts a lot of pressure on the defense with his quickness," Unseld Jr. said. "Gaff, as we've all seen, he's able to get out of the screen and get on the rim quickly. He's able to put a lot of force on the paint and once he gets airborne, you can throw it as high as you want and he'll go get it. There's a good connection, a good synergy there. I'd like to see that continue."

Gafford may be settling into the role he's best-suited for at this point in his career. Porzingis is only two games back from sitting out a month-plus due to injury and is finding his way on a new team.

It has only been two games for them as the Wizards' center rotation, but already the signs are there it could be a good one.