Derrick Favors Season Review

June 2nd, 2014 | by Ben Dowsett
Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

With so much of the franchise’s direction set to be determined in the upcoming months through the draft, free agency and the search for the team’s next head coach, nearly every element of Utah’s future remains up the air.  There are select pieces in place, but all players fall under GM Dennis Lindsey’s “There’s nothing sacred” umbrella if a franchise talent is available.

The closest thing to a sacred asset would be Derrick Favors, who Utah extended last offseason for just over $12 million per year on a deal set to kick in next season.  At the time, I wondered whether the signing might be a hair too much to commit for a player who had so little experience against starter-level competition at his position.  Elements of that piece were likely a bit nitpicky, considering the small tax a franchise like Utah typically has to pay to hold onto their top players and the value in today’s NBA of an athletic rim protector, but now the picture starts to come further into focus.  With Favors set to begin his new contract, it’s time to revisit perhaps one of the few “known” commodities for Utah going forward.

Comparing his performance from this past season to my initial assessment will require some context, because his recently finished year represented something of an anomaly for Favors style-wise.  Prior to the 13-14 season, he had spent virtually no time whatsoever as the sole big man on the floor – this certainly changed last year, with Utah’s most commonly used lineup1 featuring Favors as the center surrounded by four smaller guys, and Marvin Williams playing the nominal power forward role.

This makes an apples-to-apples comparison to previous seasons fairly tough, particularly on the defensive end.  I noted in my preseason piece linked above that Favors was still in the learning stage as a defender, with work to do on typical errors for young bigs such as fouling too often and body control.  But like most, I certainly did not predict at the time that Utah would have such a weak defensive culture overall, especially given the narrative coming in of the defense/rebounding combo Favors and Kanter could potentially provide.  So in a vacuum, there’s no question Favors continues to struggle in some of these areas – each Jazz game was just littered with defensive mistakes across the board, and Favors had his share.  But there was plenty of talk during the year on former coach Ty Corbin’s system2, and separating the blame here in any sort of quantifiable manner is basically impossible without specific knowledge of the exact rating system Utah was using.

But regardless of the reasons behind it, there still remain several large question marks for Favors defensively.  His rim protection left something to be desired considering expectations, with SportVU data from NBA.com painting him as slightly below-average of 76 rotation players defending at least five rim attempts per game.  Again, some of this can be attributed to team context, but we can paint it another way: Favors’ percentage allowed at the rim (50.7%) is just under a full point better than Utah’s full team mark for the season (51.6%, a surprising 11th-best in the league).  Compare this gap to some of the elite rim protectors – guys like Hibbert, Ibaka and Robin Lopez all show four percent gaps or even higher (Lopez’s 42.5% allowed is nearly seven full points better than the Blazers as a team).  Even second-tier players in this area are markedly more vital to their team’s rim protection than Favors, such as Timofey Mozgov (3.6% gap), Amir Johnson (4.9%), or Tim Duncan (3.1%).  Again, these sort of numbers contain elements of noise – for instance, Favors is likely hurt a little here by the presence of swatter extraordinaire Rudy Gobert opposite him on the bench, and certain other little factors in this same vein.  But they aren’t encouraging, especially for a guy expected to hang his hat on rim protection among other things.

This speaks to an issue I’ve both written about earlier this year and spoken about recently on last week’s SCH podcast: I continue to be of the firm belief that Favors is not capable of playing center in the NBA.  As I examined at length in my March piece, much of this is due simply to his size disadvantage against real centers, and their subsequent ability to bully him in the post.  His numbers defending finished sets from the block were atrocious this year, per Synergy Sports: he allowed an icky 48.2% on shots out of such sets.  His physical skill set would seem to indicate the potential to overcome this with work on his balance and timing, but the ticking clock only grows louder as Favors enters his fifth year in the league.  It will become a major concern for Utah going forward if he is unable to make serious strides this year and neither Gobert nor Enes Kanter is able to emerge as a viable NBA center defensively.

Of course, I’d be remiss not to note the areas in which Favors showed a real improvement over the course of last season.  His jump-shooting remains subpar in an overall sense, but he made real strides here over the year.  Per NBA.com, he improved over six percent on 2012-13 for all attempts classified as “Jump Shots”, a big and meaningful leap.  His 30.4% figure on all jumpers is still bad, but a jump like this likely moves him from “totally ignore” to “at least consider putting a hand up” status for a prospective defender – every little bit matters for both individual and team spacing, and continued improvement in subsequent years will up his profile even more.  He also raised his efficiency within 10 feet of the hoop, and in the end saw a four-point boost to his effective field-goal percentage over the previous season.

An even larger improvement was his play in pick-and-roll sets, where he fully realized his potential this season in a new pairing with Burke.  Favors improved his efficiency in finished P&R sets by over 40 points-per-100 possessions despite doubling his number of attempts from the previous season, per Synergy, becoming one of the league’s elite high-volume roll men.  Even without the threat of a pick-and-pop jumper just yet, teams are struggling badly to contain him with speed toward the basket:

Favors clearly put in time last offseason on his footwork and timing in pick-and-roll sets, and it showed throughout the year.  He and Burke quickly developed a chemistry, and sets with Alec Burks were equally dangerous given Burks’ penetration abilities.  Favors’ increased proficiency at and around the rim was helpful as well, and his touch improved both up close and on little “in-between” shots from just inside the paint, as well as through contact.  If he can add even one more layer to his game here – be it the aforementioned pick-and-pop J, better passing awareness off opponent rotations, or even improved pick-setting – he will be among the league’s scariest roll men for years to come, an increasingly valuable trait in today’s league.

In the end, accurately assessing whether the big Georgia Tech product will live up to his second NBA contract may depend heavily on where blame truly resided for his defensive issues last season.  If negative sentiments regarding Corbin’s defensive culture and scheme were, in fact, overblown and Favors simply hit a wall as a defender last season, the Jazz could find themselves stuck with a bit of an albatross.  But by the other side of the coin, if being freed from the shackles of a coach who appeared clueless on how to use him returns him to the curve most had initially laid out for him, four years at $49 million could easily end up being a steal.

This is a very generalized set of statements, of course, and reality is likely somewhere in between.  But despite some unexpected roadblocks, I remain confident in Favors, particularly if the Jazz find him a real partner at center – whether it be Kanter, Gobert, or a newly drafted piece3.  He has all the tools to be an excellent NBA defender, and if he continues his methodical improvement in certain areas offensively he will have a long, productive NBA career.

Ben Dowsett

Ben Dowsett

Ben Dowsett is a life-long Jazz fan and general sports fanatic based in Salt Lake City. He also writes for Nylon Calculus (Hardwood Paroxysm/Fansided Network), and can be heard on the airwaves for the SCH podcast and appearances with ESPN AM 700. With a strong background in both statistics and on-court fundemantals, he writes primarily as an in-depth strategic analyst. He can be found on Twitter at @Ben_Dowsett.
Ben Dowsett

20 Comments

  1. josh says:

    good article. I agree we need the right big man to pair with Favors and I don’t think we have the right one yet. So what would it cost to move up to get Joel Embiid? or just move up in general? I would also love to move up, but I think the cost is going to be too high.

    • Ben Dowsett says:

      A ton, unfortunately, and it may be totally impossible. My colleague Dan Clayton did a great piece reviewing Utah’s overall options a week or so ago, and there was also a good team-by-team look at what it might take situationally from Peter Novak over at SLCDunk in the Downbeats section at the end of last week.

    • Glen says:

      I agree and I don’t think we can pair up Kanter with him as the Center because he is too short and his defense makes me want to vomit. Favors needs to be the 4 and a good defensive 5 needs to happen. Embiid probably won’t happen, But I am all in if it does! However a realistic 5 I would like to pair him with would be Omer Asik. The guy is available because Houston wants to use his cap space to target Melo so we should be able to get him fairly cheap. Asik is known as a great defender so it should be a great defensive combo. We then need to surround them with shooters and cutters and we will be contending for the eighth seed again. But this time with youth instead of veterans.

  2. LKA says:

    Still should be a learning season. Give Gobert the keys. Depends on if Kanter is still here. I think Vonleh can be a center if he is drafted.

    • Ben Dowsett says:

      Definitely will be another learning season, though one will certainly hope for real improvements on last year. This is something I think some Jazz fans will need to wrap their heads around – I think some folks have subconsciously convinced themselves that this will be simply a one-year turnaround back to high levels of relevance again. This is very unlikely, barring a coup by Lindsey over the summer.

  3. Rosscoach says:

    I like Favors but he is not a center, I would love to see the Jazz continue to pair him with Kanter in a full season to see of it indeed will work.
    Bringing in a Marcus smart would definitely continue to build this teams identity in the right direction.

    Alvin Gentry would be a good coaching option but they need to commit to a coach for the next3-5 years that can oversee the development of this team.
    bouncing around from coach to coach will stunt a teams growth quickly or their ability to commit to winning.

    • Aaron says:

      I ask this sincerely: how does Marcus Smart fit for us? You’re not the first Jazz fan to bring him up. The problem is, I am a huge Alec Burks fan. He might already be one of the top ten finishers in the NBA. And we all know that Trey has enormous upside too, and the cojones needed to not shrink or back down from anyone. I like Smart a lot, I just can’t see how he helps us.

      • Paul Johnson says:

        Smart can play defense, Burkes not so much.

      • Greg says:

        I don’t think Trey has huge upside. He is undersized and does not have the quickness to overcome that like Stock did. There are character issues with Smart, but if Exum, Embiid and Wiggins are gone I think he would be good choice because of the toughness, defense and bball leadership he brings. All traits that are sorely lacking on this team.

  4. Don says:

    Seems to me Favors is a 5 on offense (no jumper) and a 4 on D (not big/strong enough). For him to be truly effective he needs to be paired with a defensive center with a jumper. Kanter has 1, not the other. Embid is likely the opposite of Kanter (defense, but not much of a jumper), so still not a good fit.

    Being so limited, and not being highly effective on both ends without a frontcourt partner that is a perfect fit…I am just not sure that we will ever find the right fir to bring out his potential.

    • Dustin says:

      Would Ante Tomic be an okay 5 with Favors? He’s has a jumper and is a good passer and is almost as tall as Gobert.

  5. Don says:

    Seems to me Favors is a 5 on offense (no jumper) and a 4 on D (not big/strong enough). For him to be truly effective he needs to be paired with a defensive center with a jumper. Kanter has 1, not the other. Embid is likely the opposite of Kanter (defense, but not much of a jumper), so still not a good fit.

    Being so limited, and not being highly effective on both ends without a frontcourt partner that is a perfect fit…I am just not sure that we will ever find the right fit to bring out his potential.

  6. zach says:

    I think Gobert needs more time in there, and I like the idea of trying to get Asik if he can be obtained cheap. Both pair with Favors well in my opinion. I think Utah should trade #5+35 to Orlando, for #4 and get Exum (assuming Wigggins/Parker/Embiid are gone). Then move Kanter to LA for #7, and get Aaron Gordon, this may be too much for Kanter, but he isnt fitting in in Utah and LA would take it as Kanter would replace the departing Pau. This gets a long athletic group and a much better bench. If Hayward leaves, Even Turner may be an option, he likely wont be as expensive. Favors needs to be the leader of the team rather than Hayward.

    Asik/Gobert
    Favors/Evans
    Gordon/Marv Williams
    Hayward/Burks
    Exum/Burke

    I would love to see the Jazz do another Golden State deal…take back old veterans for good later draft picks…as long as they dont play them too much, or at all (aka Richard Jefferson).

  7. Dan Clayton says:

    Great piece as always, and you do a great job of explaining why it’s hard to accurately assess Fav’s defense at this stage. I’ll chime in to further muddy the waters. I think there are some real risks to using SportVu’s rim protection stuff as an indicator. The way it measures, it can actually penalize guys for trying to help when their teammates mess up (which, let’s be honest, Fav’s teammates did a lot). A matador defender like Boozer who never comes over is not going to have those plays where he gave up factored into his SportVu rim defense numbers, whereas Fav making a last-ditch effort when other guys have missed a rotation might be the right thing to do, but cost him points in the way the SportVu math works out. Similarly, guys who are real deterrents – they are so imposing that penetrators seem to pull back when they see the big guy waiting – are actually the most effective rim protectors of all, but those types of plays won’t show up in their stats.

    Not saying Fav doesn’t have issues as a rim protector, but I think SportVu oversimplifies the calculus considerably in a way that doesn’t give Favors credit for his ahead-of-his-age understanding and execution within the defensive system.

    • Ben Dowsett says:

      Thanks for the kind words, Dan. Also, you’re completely right, and I was remiss to not include a caveat about this – I actually seem to remember writing such a sentence, but may have accidentally removed it during editing or something. That sort of give-and-take is definitely relevant when assessing a player as an overall rim protector.

      One interesting bit that’s something of a mix of both worlds is how some of the top rim protectors by public perception (Hibbert, Ibaka, etc) still rank at or near the top in terms of FGA Against at the Rim Per Game. Like I say, this speaks to both sides of your point – some of this is likely because those guys are confident and super willing to challenge anything and everything in their vicinity, knowing they’ll win the battle a lot of the time. But at the same time, it makes determining which guys are truly the biggest deterrents – as you say, the guys who scare opponents away before they even get a shot off – difficult to quantify (though I hope in the future, more advanced iterations of SportVU data might be able to at least help here). These are the bits of context we certainly have to take into account, and my apologies for not including such a caveat within my piece.

      Also, thanks to everyone for their comments. I may not respond to everyone individually (plus you all don’t need to hear my opinions on EVERY little thing), but I can tell you for sure that all of us at SCH have really been enjoying the frequency of comments in recent months. Keep it up!

      • Dan Clayton says:

        Yeah that’s precisely my point: SportVu gives us a jumping off point, but to analyze completely requires more than just dots on a graph. From having watched every second of Favors’ season, I would say he’s not a guy that is generally a deterrent – meaning I haven’t seen a lot of opponents change their mind when they saw him and dribble away. What I have seen a LOT of is Fav trying to cover up for Marv’s lack of size or Enes’ occasional lack of discipline, and then he winds up coming into the picture late — in time to have that type of play counted in his denominator for “opponent attempts at the rim” but too late to actually impact that. I think if you surrounded Favors with guys who consistently did their job defensively, we’d suddenly realize how good he’s been. I started to notice at the end of the 2012-13 season how Fav hardly ever does anything wrong within the team defensive structure, and was often showing other guys (even vets & guys at other positions) where they were supposed to be.

        • Ben Dowsett says:

          Yeah, you may end up being completely right there. He absolutely has the physical tools that if surrounded with the proper teammates he could be a menace. I agree, he’s not quite at that “deterrent” level just yet – I think he still needs to master the whole “verticality” thing (hate that term but it’s still a meaningful thing), he’s currently far more dangerous as a leaper along with the opposing shooter, which still opens him up to fouling too often against savvy finishers.

          And yeah, pair him with a real defensive center and the help-side D is just going to be insane. Teams are going to spend his entire career underestimating his leaping and length, it’s so deceptive. My biggest concern by far remains in the post, where he’s been brutalized over the last two seasons. Again, a lot of this relates to playing out of position a bunch (IMO), so it’ll be telling to see how he develops there.

  8. Mewko says:

    I think Derrick Favors can be like Kevin Garnett, minus the mid range jumper.
    “In your face” personality, good paint protector, good rebounder, defensive anchor, good passing out of post, good post up moves. That would make Favors worth his new contract, and worth trading for Deron Williams.

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