Saturday, April 13, 2024

Why Mavericks’ Daniel Gafford is in a perfect situation to break Wilt Chamberlain’s consecutive-makes record

We throw around the descriptor “perfect fit” a lot in NBA parlance, but in the case of Daniel Gafford and the Dallas Mavericks, who acquired Gafford at the trade deadline from the Washington Wizards, we are literally dealing with perfection. 

After finishing 9-for-9 from the field in Dallas’ 127-92 win over the Bulls on Monday, Gafford has now converted 28 consecutive field goals over his last four games. That’s an NBA record for the play-by-play era, which goes back to 1997-98, and it’s fast approaching Wilt Chamberlain’s all-time record of 35 straight makes. 

Gafford might not be a household name, but he’s actually the embodiment of the type of player who could break what is generally regarded as one of Chamberlain’s more unbreakable records. 

For starters, you can’t be a jump shooter if you’re going to make 35 straight buckets. Gafford is not a jump shooter. Entering Monday, 347 of his 362 attempts this season had come from inside nine feet, with 302 of them coming from inside five feet — which he has converted at a 75% clip. 

Put simply: Gafford is extremely selective about the shots he takes. They’re almost always point-blank opportunities, and as such, he doesn’t miss very often. In fact, Gafford is quite literally on track to be the single-most efficient scorer in NBA history. 

Among all players to attempt at least 2,000 shots, De’Andre Jordan’s 67.4% conversion rate ranks as the best in history. Gafford, with 1,527 attempts to date, isn’t quite to the 2,000-shot mark, buy he’s currently posting a 70.5 career field-goal percentage. 

And now, believe it or not, Gafford is in position to become even more efficient. You’re talking about a near seven-foot rim-rolling athlete being paired with Luka Doncic, who is the league’s premier lob/roll creator, in addition to Kyrie Irving, who creates many of the same opportunities and exploits many of the same lanes as Luka. 

As with any Dallas big, the job description is straightforward: as long as Gafford makes his way toward the rim, whether it be a lob or roll pass, a post pin or seal, a flash to open space or offensive board, he is going to feast almost entirely on dunks or layups. 

“My philosophy for sure is just being consistent,” Gafford said Monday. “I have the mindset that I want to finish everything, no matter if there’s somebody in front of you, or there isn’t somebody in front of you. At the end of the day, I either dunk it or lay it in the rim.”

Indeed, 12 of Gafford’s 28 straight buckets have been dunks, and 26 of them have come with at least one foot inside the restricted area (the only two that didn’t were from about six inches outside). Maybe five of them have been even slightly contested. A few of those he did have to get some friendly bounces to keep the streak intact, but for the most part, we’re talking about bunnies. 

It goes without saying that Chamberlain holds a lot of NBA records (68 by himself, and 72 in all), some of which are a good bet to never be broken: 100-point game, 50 PPG for a season, 37.6 PPG as a rookie, six 70-point games, 32 60-point games (including four straight in 1962) … the list goes on forever. 

Chamberlain’s 35 consecutive field goals made is a pretty wild mark. He enjoyed a much bigger size and athleticism advantage than most players (certainly Gafford) do today, but on the other hand, there are more defined roles for players like Gafford in this age. If you’re not a stretch-big shooter, you’re going to be taking almost all your shots from the most efficient areas of the court. 

Still, 35 straight makes is nuts, and while it may seem like Gafford is right there, seven more, and eight more to own the record outright, is a long ways off. But again, he couldn’t be in a better situation to pull this off. 

If Gafford was an almost exclusively restricted-area shooter in Washington (78% of his non-garbage time shots came from inside the dotted line during his first 45 games with the Wizards, per Cleaning the Glass), he has become an even more judicious finisher in Dallas, where he is taking over 87% of his shots inside the restricted area. 

Still, one of those shots can bounce around and out. But given his career numbers and the way he’s being deployed — and alongside whom — in Dallas, this record is right there for the taking. Dallas is at Golden State on Wednesday, and for what it’s worth, the Warriors are an extremely small team without much traditional rim protection. A record many assumed could never be broken could realistically be done in the Bay. 

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