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Friday, May 24, 2024

Mavericks big man falls just short of Wilt Chamberlain’s record by missing first shot in 34 attempts

SportsMavericks big man falls just short of Wilt Chamberlain's record by missing first shot in 34 attempts


If you haven’t been paying attention to Daniel Gafford’s boxscores of late (and chances are, you haven’t), then you may have missed just how close the Dallas Mavericks big man came to breaking Wilt Chamberlain’s NBA record for consecutive fields goals made. 

Chamberlain made 35 straight back in 1967. 

After finishing 5 for 5 in Dallas’ win over Golden State on Wednesday, Gafford had made 33 straight shots over his last five games. Unfortunately, that’s where his run ended as Gafford missed his first shot in the Mavericks’ nightcap against the Thunder on Thursday. 

Prior to his first miss, Gafford, while not a household name, was actually uniquely suited to challenge, and potentially break, this particular Chamberlain mark. 

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 Thursday, 366 of his 376 attempts have come from inside the paint, and the overwhelming majority of those have come from inside the four-foot restricted area, which he’s converting at better than a 77% clip. He has only taken 69 shots this entire season that weren’t a layup or a dunk, per NBA.com stats. 

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 often. In fact, Gafford is on track to own the NBA’s all-time mark for career field-goal percentage. I bet you didn’t know that. I sure didn’t. 

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, but he’s currently posting a 70.6 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. All five of Gafford’s buckets on Wednesday were assisted by Luka or Kyrie. 

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 after going 9-for-9 in a win over Chicago on 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, 17 of Gafford’s 33 straight buckets have been dunks, including all five on Wednesday, and 31 of them have come with at least one foot inside the restricted area (the only two that didn’t were from about six inches further outside). Maybe five of them have been even slightly contested. He’s needed a few friendly bounces along the way, 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. 

But 35 consecutive field goals made is a pretty wild mark, and again, while Gafford doesn’t sound like the likeliest name on the bingo card to break a Wilt record, he came dangerously close.

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 from inside the restricted area. 

Coming close to matching a Chamberlain stat is something not a lot of players can say they’ve done. Gafford is one of them. 





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