Daniel Gafford Details Nearly Landing on Dallas Mavericks in 2019 NBA Draft: 'I Could Have Been Here'

Daniel Gafford has made a significant impact for the Dallas Mavericks since being traded to the team. His tenure could have begun years prior had the 2019 NBA Draft played out differently.
Apr 5, 2024; Dallas, Texas, USA;  Dallas Mavericks center Daniel Gafford (21) dunks past Golden
Apr 5, 2024; Dallas, Texas, USA; Dallas Mavericks center Daniel Gafford (21) dunks past Golden / Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

DALLAS — The Dallas Mavericks benefited significantly from trading for Daniel Gafford from the Washington Wizards before the midseason deadline. He's shown significant chemistry with Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving, operating as a rim roller, interior relief option, and dribble handoff big, all while anchoring the team's defense.

When Gafford was on the court, the Mavericks recorded a 21-8 win-loss tally. During these games, he averaged 11.2 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks, shooting 78.0% from the floor. His performance elevated further when starting, where he posted averages of 12.4 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks, and improved his field goal percentage further to 79.3%, helping the team achieve an impressive 18-3 record in those games.

“When I first got here, it was just like I already played here,” Gafford said. “I told the media when I first got here that it was just like I was already on this team. I was in the right place at the right time. Guys were telling me things to do, things not to do, how to really just succeed on the floor. The energy was positive, and everybody wanted to really just play to win.”

Apr 5, 2024; Dallas, Texas, USA;  Dallas Mavericks center Daniel Gafford (21) dunks past Golden
Apr 5, 2024; Dallas, Texas, USA; Dallas Mavericks center Daniel Gafford (21) dunks past Golden / Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

In the second season of a three-year, $40.2 million contract, Gafford could have been with the Mavericks years earlier under different circumstances. His impact helped the Mavs to achieve a 50-win season, including a 16-2 stretch over an 18-game span to clinch the fifth seed in the Western Conference.

During the 2019 NBA Draft, the Mavericks held the 37th pick and chose Deividas Sirvydis, whom they immediately traded to Detroit. Right after, the Chicago Bulls scooped up Gafford with the 38th pick. It was a pivotal moment that could have significantly altered Gafford's career trajectory.

Before entering the NBA, Gafford stood out at Arkansas, earning a spot on the SEC All-Freshman team and first-team all-SEC honors in his sophomore year. His journey took him from the Chicago Bulls to the Washington Wizards and eventually to Dallas, where he has since become the starting center with needed paint protection and interior play finishing.

Gafford later learned from team insiders that the Mavericks had closely monitored him throughout the pre-draft process.

 “Some of the staff, they were saying throughout my pre-draft, they always had eyes on me," Gafford said. "I didn’t know where I was going when I had came out my second year, and they were just telling me stories on how the pre-draft went.

“I said, ‘Yeah, it sounds like I could have been here my first year.’ “

Since joining the Mavericks, Gafford has embraced his role, whether starting or coming off the bench. His ability to protect the rim and finish plays, often compared to NBA legends, has been integral to the team's identity. He's formulated a one-two punch in the center rotation with rookie Dereck Lively II.

“Gaff has been important, being able to start, bring him off the bench, start,” Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said. “He’s about the team. He’s giving us something that we haven’t had here. And to be able to have Gaff and D-Live – two guys who can protect the rim and protect the paint — and then on the offensive end being able to finish with the lobs."

In 1967, Wilt Chamberlain set an NBA record by making 35 consecutive field goals, a feat closely approached by Gafford this season with streaks of 33 and 23 consecutive field goals. Gafford has integrated flawlessly into the team, often finishing passes from Doncic and Irving, often leading to emphatic dunks or highly efficient paint finishes.

"When you talk about Gaff, he’s been mentioned with one of the best in the world to do it, and that’s Wilt (Chamberlain), and that just doesn’t happen every day," Kidd said. "He’s been a big part of our success.”

When the Mavericks face off against the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round of the playoffs, Gafford projects to factor in as a significant element of the matchup, lining up against Ivica Zubac in the paint and anchoring a defense set to have to account for Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, James Harden, and Russell Westbrook.

“It really just gives me the motivation to just go out and just do my job in an elite level just to be the best that I can be at any given standpoint,” Gafford said. “When it comes to a possession-to-possession game, night-in-night-out, just being there for my teammates on the back end trying to anchor the defense).

“And just being the loudest guy out there trying to make sure everybody knows where to be, knows where screens are coming from, and just pretty much knowing that you’ve got somebody back here who is going to keep you protected at the end of the day just in case something breaks down on the front line.”

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Grant Afseth


Grant Afseth is a Dallas Mavericks reporter for MavericksGameday.com and an NBA reporter for NBA Analysis Network. He previously covered the Indiana Pacers and NBA for CNHI's Kokomo Tribune and various NBA teams for USA TODAY Sports Media Group. Follow him on Twitter (@grantafseth), Facebook (@grantgafseth), and YouTube (@grantafseth). You can reach Grant at grantafseth35@gmail.com.