“It was something I really did because I didn’t want to be like a head-cut chicken out there, was in the wrong place, things like that because Russ,” Gafford said with a laugh, “I think he would me shout at. “

Gafford’s healthy fear of point guard Russell Westbrook paid off in a win against the Detroit Pistons on Saturday.

The 6-foot-10 man always seemed to be in the right place at the right time to catch a high arched lob for a slam or get a hand on the ball on the edge for a block. He had 13 points, made 6 of 7 out of the field, pulled in five rebounds, blocked three shots and made two turnovers on his 14-minute debut.

The Pistons, who have the second worst record in the NBA, were of course a friendly first opponent. But Gafford’s opening game promised more than just a highly efficient boost from the bench – his dunks and blocks provided a much-needed boost of energy to a team that has often struggled to make their own this season.

“Oh, that’s contagious,” said Robin Lopez. “Of course you love it when your teammates are successful. But a dunk – that’s the apex of it, the apex of that feeling. It’s contagious right away. It’s contagious. “

Gafford’s ability to play over the edge was the main attraction when Washington traded security guard Troy Brown and center Moritz Wagner for him and striker Chandler Hutchison, another young Bulls player. Hutchison hadn’t played for Chicago since early February due to injury and personal reasons, and Wizards coach Scott Brooks wants the wing to practice a few times before being thrown into a game. But Gafford was ready to go.

A praise menace with an impressive vertical, Gafford gives athleticism to Washington’s three-center spin with Lopez and Alex Len.

“He’s definitely giving us something that we haven’t had here since I’ve been here: a man who can catch over the edge and catch praise [for] Offensive putback dunks, ”said Brooks. “These are obviously high percentage games and we have some playmakers who can make these tough decisions [opposing] The big ones have to think about it. And it comes off the screens very quickly. He will protect the color, use his speed, use his ability to drive vertically and bounce the basketball back. “

The Wizards know exactly what they’re going to get with the Arkansas-based and former Razorback, for whom Saturday was doubly sweet when he found out in the post-game locker room that his college team had risen to Elite Eight in a thriller.

Gafford holds on to what he knows. The center said he tries to approach the game with a defensive mentality first and that his offense is relatively easy. He’s done 77 percent of his shots on the edge this season (and done 78 percent of them). His first points as a wizard came from Bradley Beal in an alley.

“I’m just coming out and trying to open up the guys as much as possible,” Gafford said, “and for Brad and Westbrook, because they get so much attention when they come off the range and roll and stuff.” [them] Going downhill, being able to toss the rag is just the best thing for me. You could throw it to the moon and I’ll go up there and bring it back to earth. “

When asked about his expectations with the Wizards (16-28) looking to get a playoff push despite finishing 13th in the Eastern Conference, three games in the play-in tournament, Gafford said his goals were so simple like his game. He wants to play to his strengths, provide energy and help solidify Washington’s defense.

The sophomore compared a new chapter in his career with the Wizards to showering before bed.

“It’s that feeling,” said Gafford. “You’re about to wake up another day and have a better opportunity for another door that is open to you. My main thing is just to make the best of it and not take it for granted. This is another start for me, I’m very excited. I have a lot of emotions right now, but otherwise I’m ready to come and play. “

Westbrook thought so too. There was no court shouting from Washington’s Point Guard on Saturday.

“He’s got incredible athleticism and an incredible sense of the game so he’ll learn if we keep going,” said Westbrook. “He did a good job figuring out his position and figuring out how to roll in his place on the floor.”