Even though the Chicago Bulls picked big men at No. 7 two years in a row, they still need depth for those roles. With Robin Lopez set to be a free agent, the Bulls entered the 2019 NBA Draft with only Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr., and Cristiano Felicio on the books to fill out the frontcourt rotation. Bobby Portis and Jabari Parker were both moved in the Otto Porter Jr. trade, cutting down the available power forwards on the roster. Given Felicio hasn’t given the Bulls much since he signed that four-year, $32M deal, it made sense to take a chance on a big man in the draft.
Enter Daniel Gafford.
Gafford, who worked out for the Bulls during the pre-draft process, entered in the draft process last season but decided to return back to school for another year. In his second season at Arkansas, Gafford improved on his numbers from the year prior. He saw increases in his points, rebounds, and true shooting percentage. Although he was projected as a first-round pick last year, Gafford fell in the draft this year, but there still is a lot to like about the selection.
Offensively, Gafford will provide Chicago with scoring inside the paint and be a force on the boards. At 6’11, he can use his size to move opposing players off the ball and sky for rebounds. Gafford was one of the top offensive rebounders in the SEC while he was with Arkansas. He finished in the top 10 in his conference for offensive rebound percentage both of the seasons he was there. Gafford averaged 8.7 rebounds per game last year and will be there to help clean up the misses. He’s a high energy guy, always crashing toward the hoop to create second chance opportunities.
Gafford will fit in nicely with a Bulls team which should be pushing the pace a lot more next season. Even with the second unit he can be a chaos initiator, always setting screens and running the floor in transition. With his athleticism he can leap over defenders for easy putback dunks or layups. Gafford shot 79.3% at the rim last season, per The Stepien. He can be effective when running the pick-and-roll as a rim runner, being there to catch lobs when defenses collapse in on the ball handler.
Other than his play near the rim along with his work rate, Gafford really isn’t going to give the Bulls much else on offense. He didn’t even attempt a 3 in his college career, so right off the bat the spacing won’t be there from beyond the paint. Gafford won’t be an option off pick-and-pop situations as teams will likely sag off him when he catches the ball. He averaged only 0.7 assists in his two years with the Razorbacks and had an assist percentage of 6% last season. Gafford took a ton of shots in this Razorbacks offense and will certainly have to scale it down when playing in Chicago. He won’t get the same amount of volume, so quality shot selection will be important when he gets touches.
On defense, the energy should translate over. Gafford offers protection at the rim, using his jumping ability to rise up and alter shots. Outside of Carter, the Bulls don’t have many guys who can do that. Markkanen still needs to get stronger and Felicio has been foul prone when it comes to contesting. However his block rate did decrease from his freshman to sophomore year. Gafford does have decent lateral quickness and won’t get overmatched on switches. This can offer Chicago some flexibility when it comes to how they handle their pick-and-roll coverages. With Gafford not being a liability against quicker guards, Chicago won’t have to double opposing ball handlers. He’s quick enough to come back in to the paint and cover thanks to his athleticism.
Gafford might struggle when it comes to defending in the post, as he does need to get a bit stronger. Bigger frontcourt players will be able to back him down and finish over the top of him. Teams could start picking on him in the post and he could leak points on that end. Signing a veteran big man who can help and mentor Gafford would go a long ways in helping him develop defensively. He has the tools and skills to be a solid defender, but still has a lot to work on.
Second-round picks are generally where teams take swings on developmental prospects. Despite players like Bol Bol or Talen Horton-Tucker still on the board, the Bulls decided to go with Gafford to help with their depth:
I like Daniel Gafford well enough at No. 38. Could have been a lottery pick last year if he didn't make a weird decision go back to school.— Ricky O'Donnell (@SBN_Ricky) June 21, 2019
Now that that's out of the way: THEY SHOULD HAVE TAKEN BOL BOL C'MON
He will be a candidate for easy lobs and can run the floor. After drafting Coby White in the first round, Chicago seems committed to getting faster. Gafford will certainly be able to help with this problem. The Bulls could have really swung on a high upside guy, but Gafford is still a nice pick.