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Daniel Gafford Details NBA Career Maturation Leading to Mavs Success

Mavs center Daniel Gafford attributes his career success to the maturation he experienced after being traded by the Bulls to the Wizards.

CHICAGO — After being selected 38th overall by the Chicago Bulls in the 2019 NBA Draft, Daniel Gafford played 74 regular season games over two seasons for the team before being traded during the 2020-21 season to the Washington Wizards. 

Gafford had a highly successful stint with the Wizards spanning four seasons, averaging 8.6 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks in 218 regular season games.  

"When I got traded from Chicago, it was like one door closed and another door opened for me," Gafford said. "It was another opportunity that I wanted to take advantage of at the end of the day. I feel that I've come here and I've locked into everything that I needed to lock in."

Daniel Gafford, Dallas Mavericks

A significant factor in Gafford's production with the Wizards can be attributed to the greater focus he placed on the game. He admitted he wasn't as focused as he needed to be during his time in Chicago, describing it as taking the opportunity for granted. However, after being traded to Washington, he knew he had to mature.

"I feel like in all honesty, just like where my work ethic is now, most definitely could have been a lot better in that area when I was here," Gafford said. "I felt like I took a lot of stuff for granted when I was here. I felt like I didn't get the job done. Whenever I stepped on the floor, I felt like I was always fidgety. I felt like I was always not ready, not locked in. So just taking that next step.

"Once I got traded, it was something that I wanted to get better at, for sure," Gafford continued. "It helped me build my character, helped me build my mentality and just come out every night and always be ready."

Along the way, Gafford experienced a feeling he described as falling out of love with the game of basketball while playing for the Bulls. He took advantage of being traded as an opportunity to re-evaluate his priorities. 

"I kind of fell out of love with the game and I had to kind of like re-evaluate myself," Gafford said. "Once I got traded to Washington, it's like I took a step back and figured out how to bring myself back into loving the game. It was a lot when it came to just me mentally here in Chicago. I wanted to be better than what I was, of course. 

"With this business, you just have to be ready for anything," Gafford continued. "I was here for a year and a half that I was here, and I feel like I just wasn't in that position when it came to being ready for anything."

The Bulls were not a successful franchise during his time with the team, posting a 29-45 record (.392). Despite the lack of team success, the big man was not willing to put the blame on what he described as him being lazy on the situation he was in. 

"I don't think it was necessarily because of the losing and all. Honestly, I think it was just me just wanting to be the player that I wanted to be and I wasn't making any step to be that player," Gafford said. "I had to do a lot of re-evaluations. I had a lot of soul-searching, too. It was just a lot of stuff that kind of like I would say, pulled me out mentally with it. I wanted to be way better than what I was playing.

"I couldn't really just make that push because I would say I was being lazy," Gafford continued. "I had to take another step into just like the responsibility of being a better player off the court, on the court, taking care of my body, taking care of my mental. It's just like a lot of stuff that I had to take the next step into being better at."

Gafford, who was traded to the Dallas Mavericks in exchange for Richaun Holmes and a 2024 first-round pick (via OKC), has experienced plenty of success in Dallas already. He recently earned the starting center role, averaging 10.7 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks in 13 performances. 

Currently, Gafford has an active streak making 18 field goals consecutively, trailing the NBA record for made shots in a row by nine. The record was set by Wilt Chamberlain in 1967 during his time with the Philadelphia 76ers.  

"My philosophy for sure is just being consistent, having a mindset of just going to finish everything no matter if there's somebody in front of you or if there isn't somebody in front of you," Gafford said. "At the end of the day, either dunking it or putting it in the rim."