At the end of the first quarter of the Jazz’s November 15th game against the Spurs, I had a thought: Derrick Favors is a beast! He’d racked up six points and nine rebounds in the first quarter alone. (Not bad when matching up against Tim Duncan.)
Another thought followed: What would happen to the beast as the game went along? You see, Favors had started the previous two games in full savagery as well. Seven points and seven rebounds in the first quarter against the Pelicans; five points and six rebounds in the opening quarter against Denver. But for some reason, more often than not, his production decreased dramatically beyond the first quarter, particularly on the defensive glass.
It’s a trend that has continued with some frequency this season, Favors roaring into a game from the opening tip only to lapse into less impressive play through the bulk of the game. I wondered why. So I looked at Favors’ per minute production through the first quarter or so of the season (22 games) not only game to game, but quarter to quarter. What I discovered helps me better understand Favors as a player, I think, as well as gives me ideas of how he can be even better.
Statistics show Favors is the Jazz’s best and most consistent player thus far this season.
His PER of 18.7 leads the team. He is far and away the team’s best defensive player, with the highest BLK% of any major contributor (3.3%), a STL% identical to that of Gordon Hayward (1.9%), and a defensive rating second only to Rudy Gobert’s handful of minutes (106 points per 100 possessions). This is hardly a surprise.
His offensive efficiency was less anticipated. He boasts the third highest true shooting percentage on the team (.556), the best of the young core players. His offensive win share of 1.3 leads the team, and his offensive rating of 108 is higher than that of Trey Burke, Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks, or Enes Kanter.
Combine both sides of the floor and Favors has produced 2.2 Win Shares this season, 45% higher than the second place player, Gordon Hayward. The man his teammates call Fav has been consistently good — but when looked at quarter by quarter under a per minute microscope, there are clear areas where he can improve.
Favors tries to be both an opener and a closer. He shoots with the greatest frequency in the first and fourth quarters. In particular, he either looks to shoot or has plays called for him most frequently in the first quarter, where he gets up a shot (or two attempts at the free throw line, which I counted as an equivalent) once just under every three minutes. Contrast that to the third quarter, where his field goal attempt frequency drops by 20%.
It turns out that third quarter is a glaring dead spot in Favors’ game. Both his offensive and defensive rebounding per minute are at their lowest levels in the third quarter — and by low, I mean fall-off-a-cliff low. His defensive rebounding rate in the third quarter is only 62% of his rate in the first quarter. He’s even worse on the offensive glass, generating additional offensive opportunities off misses only 41% as often as he does on average the other three quarters.
The wasteland third quarter extends to the defensive end as well. In the first half this season, Favors is picking a player’s pocket once every 16 and a half minutes of play, approximately. (If he maintained that rate over an entire game, he’d be averaging two steals a contest, good for a tie for sixth in the league with Paul George and Russell Westbrook.) In the third quarter, that rate falls to once every 34 and a half minutes. This pilfering deterioration becomes complete in the fourth quarter, where as of Dec. 11th Favors had yet to register a single steal all season. As the second half slogs along, Favors becomes less and less larcenous.
But don’t mistake that decrease as his running out of gas. Not only does Favors ratchet up his field goal attempts in the fourth quarter, he improves his offensive efficiency markedly. His first half points per shot (1.29) jumps to 1.56 in the fourth. His per minute scoring in the fourth quarter is 25% higher than any other quarter. He’s scoring more frequently when it matters most.
So why the pronounced tail off of production in most categories in the second half, particularly the third quarter? Conditioning almost certainly has something to do with it, but so too do fouls. The most glaring of all the per minute data by quarter deals with the rate at which Favors commits fouls. In the first quarter, which is easily Favors’ best and most active thus far this season, the big man is fouling at a rate of once per 18 minutes of play. At that rate, he would commit fewer than two fouls on average over an entire game, given his 32 minutes of play a night.
So why is Favors frequently in or nearing foul trouble? Because in the second through fourth quarters his fouls per minute jump up by 250%. That’s right, Derrick Favors fouls two and a half times as often in the second, third, and fourth quarters as he does the first. If anyone needed a mechanical explanation of how to get on the bench in foul trouble, that’s it.
Favors has been good this year, but this analysis suggests multiple areas of potential improvement. Encouragingly, nearly all should be actionable on the part of the coaching staff.
Favors is easily at his most consistently effective as an overall player in the first quarter. This is likely due to a combination of factors, lack of fatigue at the beginning of the game and being a frequent focus of the offense being the most obvious. His decreasing effectiveness and much greater propensity to foul in the second quarter suggest he might be fatigued by his nearly 11 minutes of play per game in the first quarter.
It might serve the coaching staff well to cut down those minutes in the first quarter and see if that helps him muster more vigor in the second, where they could use such help. It would be especially beneficial if it would help him keep out of first half foul trouble. Nine minutes of play in the first quarter, almost two fewer than his first quarter average, sounds like a reasonable hypothesis to test.
Fewer minutes in the first quarter would allow for a second progressive adjustment: more minutes played in the second. The data suggests that Favors is most productive in longer stretches of play, perhaps because it helps him get in rhythm. In the first 22 games of the season, he averaged 6:20 of play in the second quarter. Bumping that up to eight might lend some of the first quarter stability he’s shown. Combine that with the possibility of greater activity due to less fatigue, and it presents a plausible scenario in which Favors would produce at a higher level in the second quarter.
Favors’ third quarter morass is difficult to explain, but part of the lull is likely rationing of energy for use in the fourth quarter (when his scoring efficiency jumps up). But every minute of production is ultimately as valuable as any other. Each third quarter point produced or prevented is worth the same amount as the points in the fourth quarter. The coaching staff would be well advised to discuss the third quarter issues with Favors directly, letting him know they need more production from him in this stretch of the game. In turn, they could answer any concern he may have about overextending himself by trimming his time in the quarter from nine and a half minutes to eight minutes. Hopefully, by making the third quarter an area of focus for Favors while easing his energy output in that stretch, his per minute production could increase without it taking a toll on his fourth quarter play.
Finally, Favors’ 1.56 PPS in the fourth quarter through 22 games is too good not to put to the test. By increasing his minutes in the fourth quarter from just under seven to eight and making sure he gets chances to score, the team might be more competitive down the stretch.
With slight adjustments to playing time with the purpose of rationing energy and providing long stretches on court to produce rhythm, it may be possible to increase Favors’ effectiveness on the floor without asking for major adjustments to his game, just a more dedicated focus to bring his lunch pail in the third quarter. If it also helped minimize how often he fouls — as the data suggests is realistic — the adjustment could be a major competitive benefit at minimal cost. Given the minute recommendation above, Favors would end up averaging 33 minutes a game, slightly more than the 31.8 he is playing now. Yet its hard to see how such a demand would be too strenuous for the 22 year old or how it could hurt the team to have its best player on court slightly more — especially if it maximized every minute of the team’s most consistently good player.