No matter how good you think Jazz power forward Derrick Favors is, there’s a good chance he’s better.
Even as the Jazz hype train barrels down the tracks with column after column citing reasons for optimism in Utah, Favors get overlooked. Writers frequently cite his co-captain Gordon Hayward, his ascendant frontcourt partner Rudy Gobert, the team’s new veteran additions and an impressive contingent of rising youth. There are so many encouraging and exciting storylines around the Jazz that their second-best player often gets relegated to a passing mention, or less.
The result is that Favors — no worse than a top-three player on the Jazz, and definitely in the top 10% of NBA players overall — is somehow undersung. SI put Favors at #28 among the league’s 450 or so players1, and a collaborative ranking at BballBreakdown pegged him at #32. And yet people rarely talk about him.
Well, almost nobody.
“He’s been terrific,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said of his starting power forward in between two-a-day sessions on Wednesday. “His attitude’s been very, very positive in a lot of situations. There is a focus. He’s learning more and more how to take advantage of things that are available to him offensively, and he’s always a presence defensively.”
That two-way calculation is exactly why smart people rate Favors among the league’s best. He might not be elite at any one thing, but is a proven impact player on both sides of the ball.
He was Utah’s only consistent post scoring threat last year, but where he’s really special is as a roll man off the pick & roll. If Favors can catch the ball below the free throw line with momentum toward the bucket, good things almost always happen. He scored a quarter of his points2 on short-roll pull-ups, explosions into the paint and free throw trips resulting from the P&R. His efficiency on those plays was 1.11 per possession, tops on the Jazz and top 20 in the league for players who finished at least 100 plays as roll man. The Jazz should absolutely prioritize finding ways for Favors to get these kinds of to-the-hoop touches.
His post game and near unstoppability on downhill dives make him a reliable scorer, even if his numbers aren’t of the jump-off-the-page variety. He rode that prowess and athleticism to 16 & 8 per game for two straight seasons. That may not sound like a lot, but only five players averaged 16 & 8 last season with at least a block and a steal per night3, and the other four were All-Stars.
So he’s incredibly unique, and we still haven’t even gotten to his mix of defensive abilities. He is an above-average paint protector and someone who can force elite guards into tough shots on a switch.
Favors ranks in the top 20 in Nylon Calculus’ points saved per game at the rim. His defensive FG% at the rim — 47.8% — isn’t in the elite range of the Rudy Gobert (41%) and Serge Ibaka (43.3%) types, but he’s solidly better than average there. He and Gobert4 are chiefly responsible for Utah’s 49.7% rim defense last year, second best in the league. League average there is 60.2%, so that’s a huge part of the Jazz’s defensive identity.
Snyder talks a lot about how Favors’ ability to switch onto ball handlers opens up the defensive options for Utah. The Jazz especially unleash that tactic in fourth quarters, when Favors will wind up guarding just about anybody through switches. He even gets asked to pick up elite point guards with regularity. When he does, he doesn’t attempt to bottle them up like other bigs might try, and that’s OK; he plays to his strengths. He has tools that some of those more aggressive switching bigs don’t have — like length to recover against a pull-up. That allows him to guard switches a certain way, different from how someone like Draymond Green or Serge Ibaka might do it.
Watch as he gives several elite scoring guards just a little bit of space. This allows him to wall off drives without requiring help to come. He does this because he and Snyder know that his length and mobility will allow him to react to the pull-up and impact the shot without fouling.
Occasionally, guards decide to test that space and try to take Favors inside. When that happens, he moves laterally and carefully stays in front. It might look like he’s conceding ground here, but what he’s actually doing is preventing the player from getting around him and finishing the play while Favors looks at the back of his jersey. Again, Favors trusts his 9’2″ standing reach5 and his ability to affect the shot, so as long as he stays in front with good side-to-side movement, he can usually deny drivers after a switch.
Of course, none of this means that Favors is flawless. The Georgia Tech product spoke at media day about wanting to get better at both ends of the court, and then went on team radio where he got more specific about his summer work and planned improvements.
“Some of the things were: becoming a better leader for the team,” Favors said when asked what the coaching staff counseled him to work on. “They still want me to become a better passer out of the post [and] the elbow, free-throw line area.”
For those hoping that a three-point shot is development priority for Derrick, you can keep waiting. He said, in that interview and others, that he has worked on his long-range shooting to some degree, but isn’t focused on deploying that in a major way this season.
He has been working to hone an already much-improved midrange game. The past two seasons have been his best in that regard, as he has averaged 40% on shots from 10 to 15 feet and 34% on long twos. Those shots made up more than 40% of his total attempts last year, far and away the most of his career as he works to use that free throw line jumper to pull defenses off the baseline and help with spacing.
“That’s something I learned from (former Jazz teammate Paul Millsap),” he explained. “Add something new to your game every year and extend your range every year.”
With better shooters dotting the perimeter this year, Favors will also need to be a quick-thinking and precise passer. He could be more creative at time, but he’s probably underrated in terms of making the right pass, and there are times he sees and makes passes that not every big man can complete.
So overall, Favors gives the Jazz their best post option, an explosive and agile roll man, improving midrange shooting, above-average paint protection, elite switching ability in space, solid passing and a good attitude.
In other words, he gives them one of the most under-recognized game-changers in the NBA, someone who is almost certainly better than most people realize.