While hardly anonymous to locals and those with a keen eye, Derrick Favors continues to impress in a way that feels somehow underappreciated.
In a very broad sense, Favors just looks exponentially more comfortable in his own body than in previous seasons. He’s found the perfect equilibrium between his natural power and speed, and is able to harness both for a more stable and controlled on-court game than he had boasted in the past.
Favors maintains what’s been a wire-to-wire team lead in PER (Player Efficiency Rating), and checks in 13th in the entire league here, and only decimals separate him from elite big men like Marc Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge. He’s shooting a career high 54.7 percent from the field overall despite expanding his range (more here in a little), and has likely been the team’s most consistent player on a nightly basis.
This theme of controlled play has been evident offensively, as well – perhaps even more so. Despite using a higher percentage of team possessions while on the floor than any previous point in his career1, he’s lowered his turnover percentage (9.5) to another career best. According to basketball-reference.com, he’s one of just nine centers or forwards in the league with over 1,000 minutes played who are using at least 22 percent of their team’s possessions while posting a turnover rate under 10 percent, a group that includes Dirk Nowitzki, Aldridge, and Carmelo Anthony.
Derrick’s bread and butter remains the pick-and-roll, where he’s in his second consecutive season among the league’s true elite as a roll man, shooting nearly 55 percent on such finished sets according to Synergy Sports. He’s at his most lethal when allowed to catch with momentum toward the hoop, and has turned what was already a great figure at the rim into one of the very best in the NBA at his position. Favors is converting 68.6 percent of his looks within five feet of the hoop, per NBA.com, good for 10th-best of 124 forwards and centers attempting at least 100 from this range. He can finish comfortably with either hand, and his combination of speed and touch has been too much for nearly any defender. He’s developed an excellent chemistry with Trey Burke that dates back to last season – over a quarter of his total made baskets have come off assists from Trey.
Better yet, coach Quin Snyder has recognized his obvious skills when he’s allowed to build up a head of steam and is tossing in little wrinkles here and there to manufacture such situations organically. These variations are in their infancy as Quin has made a point of slowly integrating them across the roster2, but they’re both wonderful to watch and often befuddling for opposing defenses. Watch this Gobert-Favors (!!!!) dribble-handoff from last week’s tilt in Cleveland that effectively functions as a pick-and-roll for Derrick, allowing him to already be on the move by the time his defender is able to engage:
If you’ve got em, use ’em. Favors is no consistent ball-handler or distributor, but is certainly more talented off the dribble than most at his size – why not throw in a couple funky curveballs to keep teams on their heels? The Jazz have markedly increased his share of sets involving these sort of basket cuts, and he’s increased his percentage on finished such plays to 61.5 percent, up from 56 percent last season.
Meanwhile, Favors is expanding other areas of his offensive game under his own power. Most importantly, he’s drastically improved his shooting from the longer midrange areas, long considered one of his last remaining hurdles to becoming an elite all-around big. Where he hadn’t eclipsed 27 percent on two-pointers from 16 feet and out in his career, he’s shooting a robust 38.6 percent this year – still far from Nowitzkian territory, but more than enough to keep defenders honest and open up lanes for his bullish driving game. He’s up to over 44 percent on all midrange shots where no defender is within four feet3, per NBASavant, a massive jump from a barely 30 percent figure last season.
This has opened things up for him in the post as well, where defenders now must be wary not only of his skills on the move and at the basket, but also of his face-up jumper. The Jazz are running more sets designed specifically to get him in deep post position, with an emphasis on allowing him just enough space to catch and immediately face up:
Favors is realizing that having a “post game” doesn’t necessarily require playing with one’s back to the basket, and in his particular case, why attempt to force it when he’s so effective facing the hoop? He’s turning to his man far more frequently, entering his triple-threat stance, and allowing poor defenders to choose between crowding him up (risking a lethal drive) or giving him space for his improved jumper.
It’s not all smiles all the time, to be sure. Favors continues to make less of an overall defensive impact than many a Jazz fan had surely hoped for upon his arrival in Salt Lake City – Utah’s defense is actually notably more effective when he leaves the court, though a certain massive Frenchman who often replaces him obviously contributes here. He’s still surprisingly underwhelming as a one-on-one post defender, particularly when playing as the de facto center against bigger, polished post operators. He’s allowing 46.1 percent on field goals taken against him from post, again per Synergy, a small improvement on the 48.2 percent he allowed last season but still far too generous for someone his size and with his level of defensive expectations. That being said, he’s nowhere near as jumpy defensively, drawing nearly one fewer personal foul per-36-minutes than last season and two less than his 12-13 campaign, where this element was a chief concern for him.
Of course, in a bit of good fortune, Gobert’s ascension is threatening to make this far less of a problem in the long run. Having a defensive force like Rudy in his back pocket is a useful trump card for Snyder if Favors is struggling in a particular matchup. The realization over a legitimate minutes sample (227 on the year) that the two can excel together when Gobert bumps Favors to a power forward position where he thrives4 has been a giant one for the Jazz, with the pairing outscoring opponents at a solid per-possession clip. They rebound the ball at a rate that would crush Sacramento’s league-best figure on the glass, and defend more efficiently than Golden State’s NBA-best group. Their long-term viability as a frontcourt pairing will certainly depend on the shooting Utah is able to surround them with, but Favors’ own improvement to his range has certainly made the possibility more intriguing.
In the big picture, Favors is making Jazz brass look increasingly smart for extending him before last season. He’s already outperforming his salary figure within the current cap construct, and might represent a massive bargain under the league’s anticipated cap leap in the summer of 2016 if he remains on his current developmental trajectory. Barring major setbacks, the Jazz will get two prime years (he’ll be 25 and 26) of Derrick at well below market value under a skyrocketing cap, a huge win for a team that will be juggling various potential extensions for a number of pieces.
He’ll have to remain on track for this to happen, but returns in his first year at a non-rookie salary are almost universally positive. He’s a hard worker willing to put in the time for his weaker elements, and the Gobert pairing offers tantalizing future prospects if Utah is able to build a workable offense around them. Favors has cemented his status as a franchise cornerstone, and the only question now is just how good he can become.