Bulls big man Daniel Gafford remains a work in progress

There have been flashes for the second-year center, especially in the athleticism department, but if he wants to push starter Wendell Carter Jr., his coach needs to see some “build-out” in his all-around game.

SHARE Bulls big man Daniel Gafford remains a work in progress

When it comes to athleticism and explosiveness around the rim, there are few on the Bulls’ roster in the same class as Daniel Gafford. The second-year center showcased those skills in Thursday’s victory over the Wizards, scoring 15 points in just 22 minutes and acting as a constant irritant on defense with his rim protection.

If only that were all coach Billy Donovan were asking for.

While Donovan is thrilled with the progress Gafford has been making since the Bulls’ new offense was put in place, there are still deficiencies in Gafford’s game that will keep him behind Wendell Carter Jr. on the depth chart for now.

“Trying to put him up top, let him get into some dribble-handoffs, let him do some different things passing-wise — those are things he’s going to need to improve upon and get better at,” Donovan said of Gafford, who had five points and three rebounds in 16 minutes against the Bucks on Friday. “There’s a balance for me as a coach in making sure we’re trying to play into his strengths, and right now his strengths are rolling and diving to the rim offensively. But I do think he needs to build out other aspects, and we’ve been doing some of that, and he’s been great in terms of trying to find ways to learn and deal with that a little bit better — because he’s never really been in the position . . . to do that in his career because he’s been so elite as a roller and his length at the basket.”

The other big difference between Carter and Gafford is the screen game. When Carter sets a screen, the defender feels it. Yes, he has a wider frame than Gafford does, but he also understands the angles better, making it more difficult for the defender to get around it. Gafford often sets the screen and then has to adjust his feet to better put a body on the defender.

The good news is all of it is fixable. And Gafford seems to be a willing student.

“[I’m] just being patient, being professional,’’ Gafford said. “Sometimes you’re not going to be able to get what you want when it comes to playing time and certain things like that. We have to make sacrifices and whatnot.”

That’s what Donovan really likes about Gafford. He’s a second-round pick with first-round confidence, minus the attitude that he’s somehow owed something.

“His attitude has been great,” Donovan said. “If he keeps this kind of attitude, he’s only going to get better because he works hard, he’s a great guy, and he’s a really good teammate.”

Quiet absence

The Bulls were down four players Friday who were following the NBA’s safety and health protocol, but Donovan said the rest of the traveling party made the trip from Washington, D.C. to Milwaukee, coaches included, after two games against the Wizards this week.

That wasn’t the case last week, when four coaches missed a home game against the Pacers because they were following coronavirus protocols even after testing negative.

“These are the things that are happening on a regular basis,” Donovan said. “But as it relates to our coaching staff here in Milwaukee, everybody on our staff is here.”

One opponent at a time

The last thing Donovan wants players dwelling on is the schedule over the next few weeks. Facing the Bucks was a big enough challenge, but then there’s a home game with the Mavericks on Sunday, followed by a West Coast trip to play the Trail Blazers, Kings, Clippers and Lakers.

“We’re not really talking about that,” Donovan said. “Everything is focused on the day in front.”

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