Hopefully, Daniel Gafford was listening.
There are so many Bulls who fall under the “needs development’’ category, but few have Gafford’s raw ability.
After all, there aren’t many 6-10 players with a 33-inch vertical and 7-3 wingspan who can run on the roster. Then factor in the high motor and the intensity, and Gafford is the perfect candidate to be the next NBA second-rounder to become an impact starter . . . with some serious development.
And this new-look front office seems equipped to make that promise a reality. At the very least, the new Bulls regime has a plan.
The outgoing regime spoke of player development but had no actual blueprint. Newly hired general manager Marc Eversley was shocked to find out that the organization had long had only one player-development coach on the staff.
“That’s a hell of a job for one person to take on,’’ Eversley said of the old way of doing business at the Advocate Center. “There’s a lot of key areas within it — skill development, physical development, mental enhancement. But with that, you need to hire people to help support that. We’re going to do a pretty diligent job in terms of looking for the proper staff to bring in here to work with our young guys. But player development is going to be a tremendous focus for this organization moving forward.’’
Of the 43 games in which the rookie played, he scored in double figures only seven times. But one of those games was a 21-point outburst in a November loss to the Bucks in which Gafford also had five rebounds and two blocks.
Throw in a six-block game against the Hornets in December and an eight-rebound game in Dallas in January, and Gafford has flashed the potential to possibly live up to those Clint Capela comparisons that have been lobbed in his direction since he left
Arkansas early for the 2019 draft.
In some ways, Gafford is ahead of Capela’s trajectory. Capela, drafted 25th overall in 2014, played in only 12 games as a rookie, then started to show a glimmer of promise during his second season. He finally started to shine in his fourth season, averaging 13.9 points and 10.8 rebounds.
Gafford would need a lot of work to reach that rate of production, but the new regime at least gives him the chance.
Wendell Carter Jr. wants to play at his natural position, power forward, rather at center at some point, but there’s an obvious logjam in the starting frontcourt these days. And while it’s unlikely, what if the Bulls decide to move on from Carter or Lauri Markkanen in an offseason trade?
That would leave a void in the middle for Gafford to try to fill.
Those are a lot of ifs, but they’re all meaningless unless Gafford shows the new regime that he is a willing and able candidate to make that jump in improvement.
Gafford must get stronger in the post defensively and learn how to stay out of foul trouble, and he also has all kinds of work to do on his offensive game.
Once the NBA can resume some sort of a season, whether it’s an offseason for the Bulls or a continuation of this season, it will be interesting to see how Marc Eversley and Co. view the mix in the frontcourt and where Gafford fits.
Markkanen and Carter stay put for at least another season, which means Gafford has to earn his playing time off the bench. He does, however, make a serious leap during the 2020-21 season.