ATLANTA — Life at the end of the bench hasn’t been easy for rookie Daniel Gafford.
A second-round pick, Gafford understands his role for the Bulls, but that doesn’t mean he has to embrace it.
So he just waits patiently and stays ready.
“Yes, it’s kind of tough because I want to be out there helping the team,’’ Gafford said Wednesday. “I’m always at the end of the bench, trying to be the loudest at the end of the bench. I’m always trying to bring energy to the floor for the guys that are out there playing.
“At the same time, it’s eating me up inside. I just want to be out there to try to do whatever I can to help the team get a win.’’
Wondering when he’ll get his shot has been tough for the 6-10 big man out of Arkansas.
Gafford had an eye-opening Summer League, impressing with his athleticism and shot-blocking, then he had some flash moments in the preseason.
Coach Jim Boylen has been asked about him several times and made it clear that Gafford is a player he has been riding in practices, not only to get him to understand the NBA game but also to recognize the importance of the center in his offense.
“The only thing I’ve been told is to just stay ready,’’ Gafford said. “Just continue to work and come out with the attitude that I’m going to get minutes. Just be available, that’s the main thing.
‘‘I’m going to come into the gym every day and keep working on my craft to the point where I can be available to just come in and produce the way I need to when I get my chance to be out there with the guys.’’
That first crack in the rotation that could lead to an opportunity might not be that far away.
Luke Kornet had been a key rotation piece through the first eight games, averaging about 13 minutes as the first big man off the bench. But some disappointing performances by the 7-2 center — especially in the physicality department — have Boylen going smaller, and guard Ryan Arcidiacono earned another chance against the Hawks.
Gafford’s hope is his turn could be on the horizon.
“I just have to wait for my turn,’’ Gafford said. “The [NBA] game didn’t speed up for me at all.
‘‘I was ready for everything. The speed wasn’t different; the vibe wasn’t different. I had the same mindset that I had when I first got here, which was to come in, work hard every day and be able to be ready to get out on the floor.
“I just have to maintain the right mental state and be available for when I get my minutes on the floor.’’
Gafford played four minutes against the Hawks but didn’t score.
The schedule will give the Bulls some more practice time during the upcoming week, and Boylen was admittedly looking forward to it.
He wants to continue adding different defensive sets and said he also could flirt with playing some zone at times.
‘‘I’ve also thought about some different pick-and-roll coverages,’’ Boylen said. ‘‘You think about all those things.
‘‘I evaluate myself and what we’re doing every day and what is best for this young group of guys. I’m going to go back to nine games in 14 days, six on the road, with a new, young team. It’s hard to add a whole bunch of stuff.’’