By Kevin McPherson
LITTLE ROCK — Former Arkansas big man Daniel Gafford (6-11 center, El Dorado) took the next step toward realizing his dream of playing in the NBA as the Chicago Bulls selected him with the 38thoverall pick in the second round of the 2019 NBA Draft that was held Thursday at the Barclays Center in New York.
Gafford, who earned consensus All SEC first team honors during his sophomore season in 2018-19 before entering the NBA draft pool in March, learned of his selection while attending a draft watch party in his honor Thursday night in west Little Rock. He becomes the first Razorbacks men’s basketball player to be drafted since 2015 when Little Rock native and 2014-15 SEC Player of the Year Bobby Portis was selected 22nd overall in the first round by the same Bulls organization.
After multiple draft lottery (first 14 picks) and top 20 projections for Gafford emerged through March, many projections in recent days and weeks had Gafford sliding into the early-to-mid second round, and that is how it played out.
“Everything I see in Daniel, he’s got a chance to have a long career in the NBA,” said Hogs great and long-time NBA center Joe Kleine, who was selected 6th overall in the first round of the 1984 NBA Draft. “If he’ll embrace running the floor, rebounding, blocking shots — at minimum be that kind of player — he can have a role in the league. And while he’s doing that, if he can build on his offensive skill his ceiling will get higher, and with his physical and athletic gifts he can grow into more than a role player and play a big part for a team.”
Gafford worked out for at least seven NBA teams in recent weeks — Detroit, Oklahoma City, Atlanta, Charlotte, Utah, Chicago, and Indiana — and he met with Milwaukee on Monday. Gafford also worked out in front of representatives from 17 NBA teams during a Pro Day in Miami in early June, and he took part in the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago in May.
While taking part in the NBA Draft Combine, Gafford’s measurables — 6-9.25 without shoes, 6-10.5 with shoes, 7-2.5 wingspan, 237.6 pounds, and 142.5-inch vertical reach — were collectively considered a positive, and specifically his vertical reach (combines standing reach and standing vertical jump measurements) that was second-best at the combine and only two inches less than the top measurement posted by Tacko Fall, who at 7-6 in shoes stands nearly eight inches taller than Gafford.
An NBA front-office source on Wednesday touched on several positive aspects of Gafford’s game that NBA teams covet: “Rebounding, rim protection, a physical presence in the post with developing post game offensively.”
Gafford becomes the seventh former Razorbacks to be selected in the second round of the NBA Darft, joining current Los Angeles Clippers guardPatrick Beverley (2009), Sonny Weems (2008), Darnell Robinson (1996), Isaiah “Butch” Morris (1992), Andrew Lang (1986), and Scott Hastings(1982).
Gafford led the Hogs and was top 5 in the SEC in scoring (16.9 points), rebounding (8.7), blocked shots (2.0), and field goal percentage (66.0%) while playing 28.7 minutes per outing in 32 games last season. In addition to his All SEC first team honors, Gafford was named to the SEC’s All Defensive team. Gafford left Arkansas following the 2019 SEC tournament, and the Hogs went 1-1 in the postseason NIT without Gafford as he signed with Briscoe Sports Group and temporarily moved to Miami in mid-March to prepare for the draft.
As a freshman in ’17-18, Gafford helped Arkansas to its second-consecutive NCAA tournament appearance while earning SEC All Freshman team honors as he averaged 22.6 minutes, 11.8 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks while shooting 60.5% field goals in 35 games.
As a high school senior at El Dorado in 2016-17, Gafford recorded mutliple triple-doubles (points, rebounds, and blocks) and averaged double-digits in both scoring and rebounding while leading the Wildcats to the 6A state title game and earning 2017 Gatorade Arkansas Boys High School Basketball Player of the Year honors. He was ranked No. 47 — a 4-star prospect — in ESPN’s national Top 100 for the class of 2017.