You don’t have to be a hoops genius to see the Chicago Bulls have been struggling mightily on the inside without the injured Wendell Carter Jr. and Lauri Markkanen. With Carter (bruised quad) and Markkanen (shoulder sprain) out, much of the responsibility in the middle has fallen on the shoulders of Daniel Gafford.
Unfortunately, he hasn’t proven to be up to the task. I’m not the only one making this assessment of Gafford’s play. In fact, Gafford was pretty hard on himself after the team’s 26-point win over the Orlando Magic on Saturday night.
During his postgame meeting with the media, Gafford said the following:
We hate to rub it in, but Gafford is right about himself.
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Gafford’s Last 5 Games
Over the last five games, Gafford is averaging 6.4 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. While this modest stat line is underwhelming, what’s worse than the pedestrian scoring and rebounding is Gafford’s suspect defense.
He’s blocked a little over a shot per game in the last five contests, but opposing bigs have feasted on the Bulls on the inside. On January 30, the Portland Trail Blazers’ Enes Kanter went for 22 points and 11 rebounds. The scoring numbers were Kanter’s second-highest total of the season.
On February 5, the Orlando Magic’s Nikola Vucevic exploded for a career-high 43 points and 19 rebounds in a 123-119 Bulls loss. The following night, Bulls head coach used a small lineup and some timely double-teaming to hold the Magic center to a respectable 17 points and 12 rebounds in a 118-92 blow-out win for Chicago.
Unfortunately, Chicago was torched on the inside by the lowly Washington Wizards as Alex Len had his second-best game of the season with 13 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 blocks in Washington’s 105-101 win at the United Center on Monday night. Gafford was a minus-2 for the game, and he played just 14:52 because of foul trouble and general ineffectiveness on defense.
He did have 10 points and 5 rebounds, but he gave up more than he put in, and his lack of presence on the defensive end was a big reason Chicago dug themselves a 10-point hole by halftime.
Needless to say, the Bulls need more from Gafford.
Perhaps the Bulls Need a Center Almost as Much as They Need a PG
For all the talk about the Bulls needing a point guard to help with the offensive execution, you have to wonder if the void in the middle is as, or more important than the deficit at the 1.
The Bulls are the sixth-highest-scoring team in the NBA at 114.5 points per game. However, they are 26th in points allowed at 115.7. Much of their issues stopping opponents can be connected to their poor paint defense.
Chicago ranks 23rd in the NBA in opponent field goal percentage on shots between three and 10 feet from the hoop. Not all of this falls on the big men like Gafford, but it is proof the Bulls are lacking a presence in the middle who can effectively protect the rim.
With Carter Jr. and Markkanen both out for what feels like the 1,000th time in their short careers, and Gafford seemingly overwhelmed with the increased responsibility, it appears the Bulls are without the kind of defensive presence in the middle to take the next step in their evolution.
Don’t be surprised if Vice President of Basketball Operations Arturas Karnisovas and General Manager Marc Eversley look for a big man along with a lead guard to better position the Bulls for the future.