Daniel Gafford has been nothing short of a sensation for the Wizards since they acquired him at the trade deadline in March. They are 15-6 in the games he's played and his net rating (+7.3) has ranked third on the team only to Bradley Beal and Davis Bertans.
Gafford has been so good in a secondary role that it's only natural to wonder if he should being playing more and whether he could produce at a similar level if he did. He's averaging 10.1 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.8 blocks all in only 17.7 minutes per game. Scale those averages up to per-36 minutes, the equivalent of a high-usage starter, and they would be 20.7 points, 11.5 rebounds and 3.6 blocks.
Now, it rarely works that way, of course. But whether he could carry anything close to those numbers over a larger sample size or not, Gafford has certainly made a strong case for himself to earn a more prominent role. Wednesday's loss to the Hawks was a perfect example, as he dropped 16 points in 17 minutes on 8-for-11 shooting, yet did not play in the final seven minutes of the game.
Head coach Scott Brooks instead went with starter Alex Len, who happened to miss a tip-in attempt and then lose a rebound with about a minute to go. With Gafford on the bench, cooling off not long after scoring 10 points in the third quarter, it left the door open for second-guessing.
"I made a decision. [Gafford] had played a long stretch and I felt like he needed a break. Then, I stayed with Alex because I thought we needed his length. In hindsight, I probably could have made a change," Brooks said.
Brooks added that the Wizards have three centers in their rotation and that Robin Lopez only got seven minutes. For much of the last few months, having three centers has worked to the Wizards' advantage. But sometimes, like on Wednesday, it can be difficult to push the right buttons, as when one guy comes up short, it's easy to say someone else should have been out there instead.
Brooks has been asked on numerous occasions in recent weeks about whether Gafford could end up starting, or at least playing more. He's often answered by pointing out that Len and Lopez also bring attributes to the table, and he's embraced the nightly give-and-take based on matchups.
All three of them can protect the rim. Len and Gafford are excellent rebounders, while Lopez is as good as anyone at boxing out. Gafford can throw down lobs and run the floor, Len is an efficient rim-runner off pick-and-rolls (1.22 points per possession) and Lopez has a reliable hookshot no one can seem to block.
They all do different things and bring different physical characteristics, which helps Brooks find answers depending on the opposing big men each night. But through these last few months, Gafford does seem to have separated himself to a degree, at least by providing the highest ceiling of the three, if not the highest floor.
Perhaps Brooks will be more willing to make a change, like by putting Gafford into the starting lineup, after Wednesday's loss. It marked the first time they have lost two straight games since April 5. Brooks is known for not changing his starting lineup if they're winning, no matter how they are actually winning.
But now that they have lost two straight and could use a spark to close the deal on clinching a spot in the postseason, perhaps it's time Brooks will consider a change.