In this week’s NBA draft, former Hog forward Daniel Gafford is expected to be the first Razorback drafted since Bobby Portis in 2015. Portis has become a solid NBA player, first with the Bulls and now with the Wizards, and Razorback Nation is wishing the same for Big Dan.
Gafford, a former five-star recruit, was once considered a first-round pick, but his stock has fallen for a variety of reasons, some beyond his control. CBS Sports has him going 40th overall (10th pick of the second round) to Sacramento. Sports Illustrated has him going 33rd (3rd pick of the second round) to Philadelphia. I checked a dozen or so mock drafts and didn’t find any that had Gafford going in the first round, although several listed him as a backup option for some late-first-round teams.
So in returning for his sophomore season in Fayetteville, Gafford didn’t earn any extra money and may have actually lost some. We’ll try to piece together why that is as we work through his scouting report.
Gafford shot 66% from the floor, which is really good. He led Arkansas in offensive efficiency (113.73 points produced per 100 possessions), with just about all of that coming from field goals and free throws. As we’ll see in a second, he won’t be a high-volume offensive player when he first gets to the league, but converting a high percentage of your opportunities is a good start.
Gafford led the Hogs in defensive rebounds per 40 minutes (8.10) and was second in blocks per 40 minutes (2.96). He’s pretty physical on the defensive end and uses his height well. Scouts also like his versatility, as he’s shown the ability to “switch” and stay with a smaller, faster guard.
For a 6-foot-11 guy, Gafford is incredibly athletic. He can use his impressive wingspan to block shots, but he can also run up the floor, like in this epic sequence against Vanderbilt.
And scouts go googly-eyed when they see a big man take the ball coast-to-coast for a layup, like Gafford did in his final home game against Alabama.
Athleticism means potential, so when scouts see that Gafford can make these kinds of plays, they know that the NBA has coaches that can get him to do that more often.
That awesome Alabama highlight aside, Gafford struggled with ballhandling in Fayetteville. He was third-worst on the team with 3.31 turnovers per 40 minutes, while ranking second-worst in assists per 40 minutes (1.00, ahead of only Ethan Henderson). As physical as he is on defense, it was surprising so see opponents able to simply knock the ball out of his hands so often.
Gafford got much better at this as the season progressed. After fouling out of a couple early games, he spent less time in foul trouble late in the year. Still, he gives away too many fouls. At the next level, this will limit his minutes.
Lack of Polish
One reason that Gafford has fallen in mock drafts is that this year’s draft class has more forwards than last year’s, starting with Zion Williamson. But I think one other reason that Gafford’s position has dropped relative to last year is that scouts didn’t see Gafford take a big step forward. His raw production numbers certainly went up (11.8 points to 16.9 points, 6.2 rebounds to 8.7 rebounds, etc.), but much of that was (at least partially) in line with his increase in minutes (22.6 to 28.7). His turnovers more than doubled, from 1.1 per game to 2.4 per game, which left his overall offensive efficiency numbers roughly the same. After two years in college, Gafford still looks pretty raw, at least as an offensive player.
What would development have looked like? An expanded range has to be number one. Gafford never flashed a capable jump shot and scored virtually all of his points in the paint. A more well-rounded post game would have been nice too, as the writers over at our Charlotte site noted:
The post game he used in college won’t translate to the NBA. His repertoire is based more on force than finesse. He throws his shoulder into defenders and uses over-sized drop steps when forced to make a play out of the post. He uses his right hand virtually 100% of the time and is rather awkward trying to finish plays when he’s not dunking it.
These limitations to his game means that Gafford will start his NBA career as a low-usage, high-efficiency role player who brings energy and replacement-level defense off the bench. It is worth noting that that’s pretty much how Bobby Portis started his Bulls career until NBA coaches taught him how to handle the ball and shoot the 3. I don’t think Gafford will ever be a 3-point shooter — meaning his ceiling is probably lower than Portis’ — but I think there is a lot of potential in his game that Mike Anderson and his staff weren’t able to get out of him that NBA coaches will be able to, possibly quickly.
So who could draft team? Any team that needs some depth at forward, energy off the bench, and versatile defense will be the strongest candidates. The Charlotte piece quoted above recommended taking Gafford if he’s still available when the Hornets pick at 36. Dallas (37th) is another candidate, along with Sacramento and Philadelphia. He could go late in the first round, with both the Cavaliers and Trailblazers picking in the 20s with high-energy forwards on their wish list. The Warriors (28th) could also be a candidate, as Gafford’s defensive versatility and rim-running offense suits them well, especially since they don’t need a high-volume scorer.
Gafford already has good defensive instincts and excellent physical tools. To become a successful player, he’ll need to develop some offensive polish, including a jump shot and improved low-post game.