Daniel Gafford was only the 47th ranked prospect in the 2017 high school class , but after 569 minutes logged in his first year at Arkansas, the six-foot-11 center has quickly risen into the top 15 on ESPN’s top 100.
Through 26 appearances, Gafford is averaging 21 points per 40 minutes on 61.3% effective shooting and posted a 26.5 player efficiency rating .
Gafford profiles as a catch-and-score finisher/rim protector who leverages his athleticism into making an impact near the basket via vertical spacing, second chance opportunities and shot blocking.
The upside is in his potential as a switch defender. He is a very agile player for someone his size and has proven himself able to exchange into smaller players out in space in a pinch, which is quickly becoming a “must-have” rather than a “nice-to-have” skill for a center these days.
Gafford is an explosive leaper off two feet, which best materializes in his ability to play above the rim as a target for lobs sneaking behind the defense in transition or out of the pick-and-roll and in the dunker spot.
He’s also very effective crashing the offensive glass. Gafford has a seven-foot-two wingspan  to rebound outside of his area and a quick second jump to fight for tip-ins or 50-50 balls – collecting 10.2% of Arkansas’ misses when he’s been on the floor this season  and converting his 23 putback attempts at an 87.3% clip.
Gafford doesn’t yet have the physicality and the coordination to create his own offense out of the post, though. Despite his chiseled 234-pound frame , he hasn’t yet developed strength to set deep position near the basket and has no power moves to back his way into easy layups. Gafford is also not very smooth putting the ball on the floor on face-ups and struggles to maintain his balance through contact.
He has averaged 8.7 foul shots per 40 minutes, in part because he is such a threat near the basket that stresses the defense at all times but also because more physical defense can knock him off his balance and college officials have been largely in his favor.
On the other end, Gafford translates his length and explosive leaping ability into rim protection stepping up to the front of the basket as the last line of defense and coming off the weak-side in help defense – averaging 3.7 blocks per 40 minutes.
On top of that, he has impressed with his agility as a perimeter defender. Gafford is an asset to pick up smaller players on switches, whether it’s wings or guards. He has flashed some side-to-side quickness but mostly does well in these instances by keeping pace with ball handlers on straight line drives, staying attached close enough to block or intimidate shots from behind.
Where Gafford struggles at this point of his development is holding ground near the basket, whether it’s on post defense, attempting to wall off an opponent who is forced to lower his shoulders before going up and on box-outs – collecting just 21.8% of opponents’ misses when he’s been on the floor this season.
He is a mixed bag in terms of execution, which makes sense given his lack of meaningful experience prior to the minutes he’s logged at Arkansas this year.
Gafford’s effort is pleasing more often than not. He sprints back in transition defense, tries to deny easy post entries with some tenacity, has proven himself willing to draw charges in instances where he felt like he couldn’t/shouldn’t elevate and looks to challenge a lot of shots via verticality.
There are some areas for improvement, though. Gafford hasn’t yet developed a knack for making preventive rotations that keep the opponent from getting to the rim, doesn’t bend his knees to get down in a stance regularly defending on-on-one in the perimeter, gives up inside position in the defensive glass, jogs to screen and only sets slip screens for now.
But the detail Gafford needs to work on rather immediately is his tendency to bite on shot-fakes and put himself in danger of fouling. He’s averaging 6.3 personal fouls per 40 minutes, which has limited his playing time to just 21.9 minutes per game.
Most of the threat Gafford is as a scorer is due to his dunking prowess, but he has shown soft touch on finger roll finishes as well and flashed some appealing coordination in instances where he’s had to catch, take a dribble to balance himself and then go up strong off two feet – finishing his 105 shots at the rim at an 89.5% clip.
With his back to the basket, he has only shown a basic post game. Gafford has flashed an interesting floater off a jump-stop on a face-up drive but more often looks for running hooks without doing a particularly good job working his defender out of position to contest it. His touch in these instances is also only so-to – missing 73.3% of his 86 shots from two-point range away from the basket.
Gafford is not a black hole, as he has flashed some quick passing out of double teams in the post and can spot cutters on pre-arranged reads. That said, he is yet to show instincts that suggests he’s a particular special passer and Arkansas does not use him as an asset to help facilitate offense often – assisting on just 5.7% of Arkansas’ scores when he’s been on the floor this season.
Gafford has flashed a mid-range jumper off the catch once or twice. He gets little elevation but fully extends himself for a decently high release. The motion, while somewhat fluid, is pretty slow and the touch needs a lot of work, though – Gafford has nailed just 52.4% of his 124 foul shots, signaling he is not very close of developing into any sort of a real threat outside the lane.
On the other end, a skill Gafford needs to develop is making more of an effort to have his blocked shots stay inbounds. He’s still shown to be very into the idea of spiking the ball into the third roll at this point of his developm