Bulls beat Wizards but lose big man Daniel Gafford to injury

Gafford dislocated his right thumb, leaving the Bulls, already down Wendell Carter Jr. in the middle, with reserve Luke Kornet as the next man up. But they still beat Washington at the United Center.

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The Bulls’ Daniel Gafford leaves the game after dislocating his right thumb Wednesday against the Washington Wizards at the United Center.

The Bulls’ Daniel Gafford leaves the game after dislocating his right thumb Wednesday against the Washington Wizards at the United Center.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

It has been the company line since midsummer.

When adding to the rebuild last offseason, the objective was amassing interchangeable pieces. Coach Jim Boylen has brought that aspect up more than a handful of times, pointing to issues in the past.

According to Boylen, if a starter went down in previous seasons, the backup would force the staff to completely alter the way the team played on both ends of the floor.

That’s why it was so important for Boylen to add compatible parts. It’s the next-man-up mentality, and it’s about to be fully tested again.

Already without starting center Wendell Carter Jr. for at least another month with a sprained right ankle, the Bulls took another hit in the middle when Daniel Gafford dislocated his right thumb just minutes into their 115-106 victory Wednesday against the Wizards.

Gafford had put his hand out for a pass in the paint, and the ball bent his thumb upward.

He walked straight off the floor and into the locker room. The Bulls eventually announced that Gafford would miss two to four weeks after X-rays. They also lost Chandler Hutchison late in the game when he reinjured his right shoulder.

The Gafford injury was the headliner, however. The second-round pick (38th overall) had taken over for Carter and had shown flashes the previous two games.

In the victory over the Pistons on Saturday, Gafford had 14 points and seven rebounds. On Monday, in the loss to the Celtics, he had 10 points and shot 4-for-5 from the field.

Like Carter, Gafford gave the Bulls some rim protection that they sorely needed, and now there’s a huge void to fill.

Luckily, the injury came against the slumping 13-27 Wizards.

“I’m trying to go and make a play, the ball gets thrown across, and it came so fast, I tried to deflect it,’’ Gafford said. “It hit my thumb, and then I looked at my thumb and it was way more than jammed. It kind of caught me off guard because my [thumb] was almost hanging.’’

Luke Kornet came in for Gafford, playing a game-high 35 minutes and scoring 10 points. He likely will remain the starter. Just don’t expect the Bulls (15-27) to change the way they play.

Boylen has been doing a lot of self-reflecting since the regular season hit the midway point and continued Wednesday, taking the blame for some of the team’s deficiencies.

“Poor spacing, poor decisions,’’ Boylen said when discussing his team’s transition game. “I want a multihandler system. We don’t have the ball in John Stockton’s hands every fast break. It’s not. It’s in a different guy’s hand every time. That’s the growth plate; that’s where we gotta get better.’’

So why not take the ball out of a few hands?

“No. I gotta coach it better,’’ Boylen said.

And while there has been a lot of criticism of Boylen’s coaching, it’s not coming from his players . . . at least publicly.

Kris Dunn said it’s up to the players to adjust to what Boylen and the staff have asked of them this season, and he doesn’t want the multiballhandler system to go away.

“Judge us on how we should be judged, based off our play,’’ Dunn said. “Other than that, it’s on us. The people that are in this locker room, the coaching staff and us, we just keep working on things and keep improving every game.

“It’s going to work in due time. Nothing comes easy. New coaching staff, new system, we all understand that.’’

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