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Prospect Breakdown: Daniel Gafford

Could the Razorback be an option for the Sixers at no. 24?

NCAA Basketball: Alabama at Arkansas Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Everyone knows the Philadelphia 76ers must make some decisions this offseason. They’re going to #RunItBack with head coach Brett Brown, but the roster must be filled out. The Sixers have decisions to make with Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris, but there’s another important item to work out: backup center.

During the regular season, the on/off numbers for the Sixers when their All-NBA 2nd Team Defensive Center Joel Embiid weren’t great. During the playoffs, they were downright awful at times without Embiid on the floor.

The Sixers played several different backup centers throughout the regular season and playoffs; Amir Johnson, Boban Marjanović, Jonah Bolden, Greg Monroe, some dude from the West Philly Branch at the YMCA, and our own Kevin Rice all got some minutes at backup center. I’m lying about those last two, but I’m 100 percent for real about the others, and none were great options.

Perhaps a new challenger could come in the draft. Before you ask, the answer is yes. I am absolutely thinking about the “Here Comes a New Challenger” graphic from Street Fighter II.

Daniel Gafford: Arkansas Razorbacks
6-foot-11/7-foot-2 wingspan/237.6 pounds.
32.5” Standing Reach/36.5” Max Vertical Reach (Measurements at the NBA Combine)

The draft this year isn’t as good as it has been in recent years, and the Sixers pick down at 24th overall. One player to maybe eye up is Arkansas Razorbacks big man Daniel Gafford. Gafford was a two-year starter for the Razorbacks and had a more noticeable sophomore season after the Razorbacks’ top two scorers (Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon) graduated.

Could Gafford be an option? Let’s break down some of the things that make him interesting in terms of how he’d fit on the Sixers’ offense and defense.

Offensively, Gafford is a plain-and-simple post guy – which isn’t a terrible thing. It needs to be pointed out that if you’re looking for a stretch-5 type, Gafford isn’t it. He’s getting on the block. He’s bangin’ down low, and he’s getting easy, high percentage buckets.

Per Synergy Sports, 36 percent of Gafford’s points came via the post-up. He scored 0.971 points per possession, which puts him in the 81st percentile. For context, Zion Williamson was in the 99th percentile. In a strict “post up” situation (i.e. not just around the basket), Gafford scored 1.2 PPP, putting him in the 91st percentile, and he shot 58.3 percent from the field in those situations. Gafford scored 1.545 PPP around the basket (98th percentile/75 FG%).

Gafford isn’t going to space the floor like Embiid, Mike Scott, or to a lesser extent, Jonah Bolden, but if you want an easy two points in the paint, the sophomore Razorback is a good choice.

When he became the focal point of the offense, Gafford saw a lot more double teams as the Razorbacks offense flowed more through him. He was much better last year passing to spot-up shooters (1.026 PPP/54th percentile) than he was passing to cutters (1.125 PPP/22nd percentile). He may not be the best at seeing cutters in traffic, which may present difficulty in a Sixers offense that has a lot of moving bodies (more with the second unit than the first), but spotting an open Mike Scott (if he’s re-signed) or whatever shooter is on the floor is more his strength when passing out of a double team.

Gafford was excellent as a cutter and roll man in a pick-and-roll. In his sophomore season, he got about 19 percent of his points from cutting to the basket (1.363 PPP/83rd percentile). In a pick-and-roll situation, specifically, Gafford scored 1.469 PPP, putting him in the 86th percentile. The Sixers don’t run as much pick-and-roll as some would like, but Gafford would be a good roll man in a PnR situation with Simmons or Butler (provided Jimmy is re-signed).

The last part of Gafford’s offense came from putbacks and offensive rebounds (15 percent), where he scored 1.278 PPP. He averaged 8.7 rebounds per game and close to three offensive rebounds per game. (Sheesh!) Per 100 possessions, Gafford averaged 16.8 rebounds per game with a decent rebound rate (also 16.8, so, you know … synergy).

Defensively, Gafford was solid. He won’t be someone that can be versatile and pick up guards on a switch, but he’s a solid body you can throw in front of Giannis Antetokounmpo – which is what you need against Giannis (bodies, and lots of them). Defending the post-up, he allowed 0.733 PPP. Gafford totaled 141 total blocks in two years at Arkansas, and was the Razorbacks’ defensive anchor. For his collegiate career, he averaged 4.6 blocks per 100 possessions.

For a little more perspective on Gafford, I talked to Bob Holt of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. You can follow him on Twitter @BobHoltADG.

In his sophomore season, Gafford saw an increase in field goal attempts to about 11 per game, and his points per game increased to 16.9 ppg. What changed in Gafford’s game from his freshman to sophomore year, offensively?

A big part of Gafford’s improved offensive numbers were by necessity for Arkansas. The Razorbacks lost 80 percent of their scoring — including All-SEC guards Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon — from the 2017-18 team that went to the NCAA Tournament, so Gafford suddenly became the team’s clear-cut No. 1 scoring option with his combination of size and freakish athleticism.

Was Gafford the focal point of Mike Anderson’s offense after Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon graduated?

Without a doubt. Anderson said repeatedly that Arkansas was at its best when the offense ran through Gafford. Sometimes that meant he was scoring, or sometimes it meant he was drawing the defense and creating open shots for his teammates. But the Razorbacks were at their best when Gafford got touches on the offensive end.

Gafford led the Razorbacks in just about every rebounding category (both traditional and advanced stats like Total Rebound Percentage). In fact, per 100 possessions, Gafford averages close to 17 rebounds. Is he as savage of a rebounder in person as his statistics would suggest?

Gafford is a very good rebounder, especially on the offensive end. The Arkansas coaches talked about his ability to jump multiple times for the same rebound. If he didn’t get it on his first try, he could get it on his second or even third try. He’s a relentless rebounder and obviously with his length — I believe he has a 7-foot-4 wingspan, not sure what he measured at the combine, but check that — he can go get the ball. (After checking, Gafford’s wingspan is 7-foot-2.)

The Sixers have a center in Joel Embiid who is as imposing of a rim protector as anyone in the NBA, but they lacked options to spell him for times during the regular season and playoffs. Is Gafford a solid rim protector/post defender (i.e. good instincts, footwork), and could he be a solid backup in spot minutes for the Sixers?

I think Gafford is a very strong rim protector. He anticipates well and improved his footwork to cut down on his fouls as a sophomore, though at times he still got in foul trouble. He not only blocked shots for Arkansas, but altered a lot.

Gafford did partially tear his meniscus prior to his freshman season. What was the overall impact of that injury in his freshman year, and did he look like he was over the injury in his sophomore year?

As far as I know that injury didn’t bother Gafford in his two seasons at Arkansas. At least he certainly didn’t look as if it affected his play. But I’m obviously not privy to the kind of information NBA teams will get from physical exams of a draft prospect like Gafford.

Describe Gafford’s personality. As you probably know, the Sixers have a lot of personality with Embiid, TJ McConnell, and (if he returns) Jimmy Butler.

It’s hard to get to know players very well on a personal level with colleges having such limited access, but I’ve found Gafford to be a guy who has fun playing and enjoys being with his teammates. He opened up more in media interviews as a sophomore, including talking about how he should have been more coachable at times. I think he has good self-awareness. He never backed down from criticizing himself, even at times when it seemed unwarranted.

If the Sixers were to draft Gafford with the 24th pick, tell Sixers fans what kind of player and person they would be getting?

I think Gafford is a unique talent with a very high ceiling. He runs the floor exceptionally well for a big man and always plays hard. He’s one hell of a dunker. He needs to develop a perimeter shot and improve on free throws, but I believe he has the desire and work ethic to raise his all-around game and be an impact player in the NBA, not just a role player who rebounds and blocks shots.

I also think he’s a good person who will present his NBA team well. At Arkansas, the players were involved in a lot of community service projects and I always heard that Gafford loved interacting with children.

Thanks again to Bob for all his feedback.

Here is a video of Gafford’s most dominant game of his sophomore season in a March 9 win over the Alabama Crimson Tide. Gafford had 29 points and a career-high 16 rebounds in the 12-point win.

What do we think? Yay or nay?

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