To Utah Jazz faithful, the title of this post may seem like stating the obvious. Derrick Favors indeed is very good. Nothing shocking here. Yet recent events have caused one to feel that the rest of the NBA seems to be less aware of Favors, or less cognizant of the strides he has made the past two seasons. In short, the big man is still quite underrated, flying below-the-radar among basketball minds.
Well, the rest of the league might want to take notice. Simply put, Favors is top flight power forward and a formidable defender with a burgeoning offensive game. And his progress is still on an upward trajectory.
In August, USA Basketball announced its 34-man roster for the 2015 Men’s National Team minicamp. While some named will clearly be the ones who represent the United States of America when the 2016 Olympics roll around, the majority of the roster consists of players USA Basketball wants to involve, get to know and consider for the future of its program. Noticeably absent was Derrick Favors. His omission was surprising to many knowledgeable media members and Jazz fans. It also shocked one of his Jazz teammates.
— rudy gobert (@rudygobert27) August 6, 2015
Not having Favors in that group seemed like a head-scratching decision, especially as one studies the list of those invited. While making the final USA lineup would be a tall order, he is certainly one of the best 34 American basketball players. Of course, USA Basketball predicates some of these invites based on fit. Even so, Favors seems like a player who could offer a lot to USA Basketball.
Likewise, as the NBA world gears up for the upcoming season, there will be many lists and player rankings that ensue the next two months. Some have already come out. While such lists should be taken with a grain of salt, chances are, some will rate Favors modestly.
So how good is Derrick Favors and why might he be considered on the NBA’s underrated performers? Let’s take a look.
The 2014-15 NBA season was the big man’s best yet, as the raw numbers — 16.0 PPG, 52.5 FG%, 8.2 RPG and 1.66 BPG — clearly indicate. He posted career highs in minutes, points, frees throws made and attempted and assists, while finished eighth in the league in field goal percentage and 14th in blocked shots. Very impressive.
But a closer look at his advanced statistics1 tell even more about Derrick Favors. He registered career-bests in PER (21.8), TS% (.558), USG% (23.8), AST% (9.4), TOV% (10.2), WS (8.3) and WS/48 (.175). Those marks are sneaky good. In fact, they show a player who is bordering on elite. Favors finished 14th in the Association in PER, ahead of three All-NBA team honorees and a whopping 16 All-Stars2. He was 20th in WS/48, again ahead of many of his NBA cohorts. As his role increased, so did his production.
Favors took more of a prominent role offensively, and did so very efficiently. As the season went on, he became more aggressive and decisive with the ball in his hands. He never finished better inside (74.5 percent on shots 0-3 feet from the basket) and demonstrated an improved jumper (40.1 percent for 10-16 feet shots; 34.1 outside of 16 feet — both career-highs). Favors seemed to flourish in head coach Quin Snyder’s offense, both as an inside presence and as a more dangerous perimeter shooter. His marksmanship — which had been fairly limited his first several season — helped open things up. When Enes Kanter, who gave a bit of a stretch four presence, was traded, Favors filled that role admirably as he moved from center to power forward alongside Rudy Gobert. While still a work in progress, his jump shot helped open things up a tad bit for Gobert on the interior.
Another aspect that should be recognized is Favors’ growth as a passer, another essential in Snyder’s system. While 1.5 APG will not astound anyone, he displayed some passing heretofore unseen. He started to pass better out of the occasional double team and was able to make some deft dishes inside to his front court mates. He did this while cutting down his turnovers, even as he occupied a greater role offensively.
While still solid, Favors did post career-lows in TRB% (15.4) and ORB% (10.0). Some of this could be attributed to Gobert’s dramatic emergence3. Kanter was a strong rebounder, but Gobert showed that he could be one of the NBA’s best.
Favors played his usual stout defense. He posted a 4.3 BLK%, right at his career average. He helped compensate for Kanter’s deficiencies defensively and held his own against centers. But things really took off after Kanter’s midseason trade to the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Favors/Gobert tandem became a nightmare for opposing big men. They teamed up to provide an intimidating and blanketing defensive duo who set the tone for the rest of the Utah squad and subsequently for the Jazz’s post-All-Star game success. Playing his more natural power forward position enabled Favors to use his size and mobility to his advantage, instead of being undersized on many nights. This pair will only get better as they play more together.
The trade breathed new life into Favors. His post-deal numbers were stronger across the board, though a late season injury slowed things down a bit. In March, Favors tallied 18.0 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 1.9 APG and 1.79 BPG. It is a small sample size, but should he maintain similar averages all season, he would certainly merit All-Star consideration.
So, why is Favors still underrated?
First, Favors has a humble, unassuming personality. It is his nature, and is something that has endeared himself to Jazz fans. Much of attention was given to Gordon Hayward’s growth and Gobert’s meteoric rise. That said, Favors started to be more emotionally demonstrative on the court, something that should carry on even more moving forward. Snyder asked him to be a leader and he stepped up. He should continue to do so, as the team’s veteran leader with Hayward.
Second, he plays in a crowded conference that boasts most of the NBA’s top bigs. With players like Marc Gasol, Tim Duncan, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, LaMarcus Aldridge, Dirk Nowitzki, Draymond Green, Dwight Howard, and Demarcus Cousins, it’s understandable that he sometimes gets overlooked. Favors also spent his first three seasons in a crowded frontcourt. Behind Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, Favors was primarily a bench player. Only in the past two seasons has he been the man up front. As he keeps growing into that role, he could easily take his place among that top flight group, along with Gobert.
This serves as another reminder that Derrick Favors is indeed really, really good. While he still gets overlooked a bit, that could change in a major way this season. It would not be surprising to see him make another solid leap forward.