Can Hayward or Favors be Utah’s First Options?

September 9th, 2013 | by Clint Johnson

In an attempt to score, every team has a Plan A.

Last season’s Plan A was Al Jefferson on the block.  Big Al’s execution of that plan earned frequent complaint from Jazz fans.  He was too slow, too finesse, too inefficient.  He just wasn’t, said the consensus, real #1 stuff.

This season, Jefferson will play in Charlotte, leaving shoes for someone to step into as prime weapon in the Jazz arsenal.  The most likely candidates are Gordon Hayward on the perimeter and Derrick Favors in the post.  But without Jefferson, how might these two bear up while anchoring an NBA offense?

What Does a Real (Not Just Ideal) #1 Option Look Like?

The supreme offensive options in the league are the two best players in the world, LeBron James and Kevin Durant.

PER

TS%

eFG%

TOV%

USG%

ORtg

OWS

LeBron James

31.6

0.640

0.603

12.4

30.2

125.0

14.6

Kevin Durant

28.3

0.647

0.559

13.7

29.8

122.0

13.6

In contrast, the Magic and Raptors were forced by their talent dearth to elevate #2 (perhaps even #3) option players into their primary scorer roles.  The numbers show how poorly that worked.

PER

TS%

eFG%

TOV%

USG%

ORtg

OWS

DeMar DeRozan

14.7

.523

.459

9.6

24.2

105.0

3.1

Arron Afflalo

13.0

.527

.478

12.1

22.5

102.0

1.5

In between, we have the average #1 option in the league last season:

Average # 1

Option

20.0 PER

.543 TS%

.493 eFG%

12.9 TOV%

27.0 USG%

107.7 ORtg

4.5 OWS

A face to go with the statistical average might be LeMarcus Aldridge (20.4 PER, .530 TS%, .485 eFG%, 26.5 USG%, 108 ORtg, 4.8 OWS).  That will leave the analytics crowd cold, but that’s what the numbers say: last season, LeMarcus Aldridge was an average NBA first option in terms of efficiency.

How did the Jazz’s first option incumbents’ performances last season stack up to this standard?

Hayward

PER

TS%

eFG%

TOV%

USG%

ORtg

OWS

Gordon Hayward

16.8

.564

.501

11.7

22.1

113.0

4.2

1st Option Average

20.1

.543

.493

12.7

27.2

107.7

4.5

Hayward looks like he just might fit the part.  He neared, met, or exceeded the average in nearly all these efficiency categories. But projecting these numbers into the coming season is questionable because of one statistic: usage. Given more minutes and with the burden of taking more shots and generating more of the offense with the ball in his hands, will Hayward be able to maintain this level of efficiency?

His PER will almost certainly increase.  However, he will be severely challenged by the new role to maintain these other numbers given his new place of focus in opponents’ scouting reports.

My guess is Hayward’s usage will jump to somewhere in the 24-25% range.  In that case, Jazz fans should be well pleased if he produces slightly below the efficiency of an average first option player.  Something in the area of .540 TS% and .490 eFG% seems ambitious yet reasonable.  Turnovers will be a substantial challenge, and I think he’d do very well to keep his turnover percentage below 14.

Not surprisingly, the player last season who best characterizes this projection for Hayward is Paul George: .531 TS%, .491 eFG%, 15.2 TOV%.  Such a season would be an unmitigated success for Hayward.

But that doesn’t mean he would be a good first offensive option, particularly for his position.

21 of the of the NBA’s 30 teams used perimeter players as their primary offensive option last season.  The average efficiency of those players is below:

Average # 1

Perimeter Player

19.8 PER

.549 TS%

.495 eFG%

13.6 TOV%

27.3 USG%

108.1 ORtg

4.9 OWS

Don’t let the slight PER decrease fool you: the perimeter players are more efficient than the overall average.  It isn’t by much and it comes at the cost of a higher turnover rate, but all the other numbers are slightly better than the average.

If Hayward’s best realistic efficiency next season is akin to George’s last season, he will be near the bottom third in efficiency for primary perimeter options.  That would put him among last season’s performance of these players: Eric Gordon, John Wall, Rudy Gay, Josh Smith, Jrue Holiday, Monta Ellis, Kemba Walker, DeMar DeRozan, Arron Afflalo, and Goran Dragic.  He would be better than the weakest of these offensive players (Dragic, Afflalo and the like), but more akin to them than the super elites like James and Durant.

Favors

It is hardly a surprise, but the numbers suggest Favors just isn’t first offensive option material yet—though he may not be as far away as might be assumed.

Offensive post play in the NBA is currently lacking, to put it mildly.  Last season, only nine teams used a post player as their first offensive option, and then with less effectiveness and efficiency than their perimeter counterparts.  The average offensive efficiency they produced is listed below in comparison to Derrick Favors’ statistics from last season:

PER

TS%

eFG%

TOV%

USG%

ORtg

OWS

Derrick Favors

17.5

.533

.482

15.9

20.6

104.0

1.5

1st Post Average

20.3

.530

.486

13.8

26.4

106.9

3.5

While Favors was far from an offensive dynamo last season, statistically, he isn’t completely out of his league in this comparison.  His TS% and eFG% are actually right in line with or better than players like LeMarcus Aldridge, DeMarcus Cousins, Carlos Boozer, and Greg Monroe.

But where Gordon Hayward looks to increase his usage by two to three percentage points in his new role, Favors would have to double that increase to become a true primary post option.  A four to six percentage point jump in usage is big.

That increase in usage combined with substantially more minutes, possibly as many as ten more minutes per game, means it is impossible to predict just how Favors’ efficiency might evolve given a place as an offensive feature.  It’s possible that with more game time to acclimate to the NBA combined with his own maturation, his efficiency may increase.  This happened with Dwight Howard in his third year, for example.  Or it’s possible that the greater offensive responsibility will highlight Favors’ offensive weaknesses, causing his efficiency to decrease under the increased burden.

There is little way to tell at this point, though Favors’ free throw shooting history is encouraging.  A .595 shooter as a rookie, he saw precipitous increases in both his second (.649) and third (.688) seasons.  If he improves his free throw shooting at anything close to the 4% or 5% seasonal increases of the past, he would shoot between 71% and 74% from the line this season.  For a player who attempts more than 5 free throws per 36 minutes (and with a substantial increase in usage, that rate would most likely go up), those extra few points make a huge difference to TS% and a player’s offensive efficiency.

Big Al’s Shoes

By the end of the year, we’ll know much more about both players, as well as the future of the Jazz.  But don’t be surprised if neither is any more efficient a primary option than Al Jefferson his last few seasons with the Jazz.

PER

TS%

eFG%

TOV%

USG%

ORtg

OWS

Al Jefferson (2 seasons)

21.8

.521

.494

6.4

25.5

110

9.2

Average #1 Last Season

20.1

.543

.493

12.7

27.2

107.7

4.5

Average #1 Post Last Season

20.3

.530

.486

13.8

26.4

106.9

3.5

Big Al received a great deal of criticism in his Jazz tenure, some of it deserved.  But his reputation as an inefficient primary option, something easy to replace, simply isn’t warranted.

As the go-to guy on the Jazz, Jefferson was good.  Not great, but good.  His lower than desired TS% (due to his relatively few free throw attempts) was balanced by his extremely low turnover rate, the lowest of all first options across the league.  He shot better than the average team #1, produced a higher ORtg and more OWS, and offered a more diverse game with his above average PER.  When judged against other post players, his performance is even better.

Both Hayward and Favors should best Jefferson’s TS% next season.  Hayward takes and makes a lot of shots from both the three and free throw lines; Favors should be in the top fifteen in the league in both free throws taken and made, as well as in offensive rebounds.  Also, they should both be better all-around players next season than Jefferson ever was, given his defensive struggles.

But don’t expect an upgrade on the offense end this season.

Both Hayward and Favors will turn the ball over a lot where Jefferson protected possessions better than any top option in the league.  Also, while more jumpers from Hayward will result in more offensive rebounding opportunities, it will also result in more long rebounds turned into fast breaks.  For a defense-oriented team, as the Jazz seek to become, fast break points from turnovers and long rebounds can be killers.

Hayward, with some help from Favors, will fill the shoes left by Big Al and prove to be a passable #1 option this season—just don’t be surprised if Al’s shoes prove a little bigger than expected, and the team’s young captains require more growth before they truly fill them out.

Clint Johnson

Clint Johnson

Clint Johnson is a professional author, writing educator, and editor. In addition to his writing center work at Salt Lake Community College, he designed, coordinates, and teaches in an experimental author residency program for a West Valley City public charter school. A frequent presenter at both writing and educational conferences, he writes about the Jazz as a break from his other writing work.
Clint Johnson

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11 Comments

  1. Casey Greer says:

    Awesome article Clint. I loved the comparisons, and didn’t realize how much less efficient 1st option post up players are in comparison to perimeter players.

    Something I’d be curious to see is how Hayward’s advanced stats looked like when just looking at games when he came off the bench. When Hayward came off the bench last year he was a completely different player. I think it has little to do w/ who was guarding him and everything to do w/ his teammates. When he came off the bench, he was the 1st offensive option for that unit. When he started, he was the 3rd, sometimes 4th option.

    A look at his off the bench stats per ESPN show that his usage went up, his FTA went up, but his fg% dropped quite a bit. If you or anyone else knows how to come up w/ his advanced stats for just his games that he came off the bench, that’d be pretty cool. Like I’m wondering if/how much his TS% dropped when he came off the bench, that sort of thing.

  2. Brock Jay says:

    Can you do the same with Kanter? He per 36 averaged more points than Favors and shot a better percentage.
    Might in interesting to see.

  3. RC1820 says:

    I suspect Kanter will become the primary offensive option. Toward the end of last season, he displayed an expanding offensive arsenal. Including a jump hook, a foul-line jumper and an Olajuwan-like baseline fadeaway.

    • Clint Johnson says:

      Beyond this season, you may well be right. This season I think he’ll have some growing pains, particularly in trying to decrease his turnover rate and better distribute the ball, both of which he’ll have to do to become a major offensive option. Once he manages to increase his awareness of both the defense and his teammates’ positioning, he may be the best offensive option on this team – but I don’t think he’ll reach that this season.

  4. GPlayle says:

    I think the biggest thing is Hayward’s increase in production and efficiency each year while still decreasing minutes from his second to third year. Also have to take into account the “Millsap Doctrine.” There is also this thought that when Ty wasn’t pulling a “Ty” and Mo didn’t go into “MOLO” I think Hayward was actually 2nd option and not 3rd or less.

    • Clint Johnson says:

      Well, the truth is, in some ways his efficiency decreased every year: TS% from .578 to .568 to .564 last season, while his eFG% decreased from .544 his rookie season to .503 and then .501. Now, his TOV% has decreased from 17.3 to 11.7 in that same span, so in my mind that compensates for the slightly lowered shooting efficiency. But he hasn’t increased in efficiency, even though he has in scoring (not so much as a rebounder, passer, or defensively).

      And the Millsap Doctrine doesn’t really apply here. That theory is based on a study done by Kevin Pelton and Tom Ziller that examined bench players suddenly getting substantially more minutes in an already existing team, a.k.a. Millsap filling in for the injured Boozer. To improve production by moving up in an existing team, particularly as a starter with 4 remaining starters, is not what Hayward faces this season. While his minutes look to increase by somewhere between 3 and 8 minutes a game, he is changing roles in a completely new team; he is not moving up into an existing unit. The Millsap Doctrine did not look at that situation and so has limited value in projecting Hayward forward based on per minute production, unfortunately.

  5. Adam Gehring says:

    I would like to thank you for the good read and it would have been great if you would have thrown in the 32, 12 and 14 comparisons with your figures. I only see two flaws in your reasoning. One, it seem like the team (especially towards the end of the season) would shut down after the ball went to Al which was the death of team ball. Which leads to the second flaw that traditionally Jazz basketball has not had a #1 option and at times that hurt them, as it sometimes did in the two finals years. If you ask Coach Slone (and I would hope that Coach Corbin is preaching the same or similar philosophy) he would say its a team game and the #1 option is always the person with the best or highest percentage shot. As a team, this group of Jazzmen has the potential to be as good if not better at it, than the two finals years, if the pieces that have been put into place gel into trusting teammates. Any one of them have the potential Hayward, Kanter, Favors, Burks, and Burk of being the #1 option. And if it comes down to needing a bucket in the clutch hopefully one of those pieces will Rush? to our rescue. Lets hope!

  6. Pingback: Response to Readers: Hayward and Kanter’s Offense | Salt City Hoops

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