Last night, the Utah Jazz won their seventh game in the last twelve contests. For those Jazz fans who believe the one overriding purpose of this season is to get a high draft pick, this winning is devastating. The team that was once one and 14 has now won ten of 20 with Trey Burke starting without a minute restriction. It’s pure disaster. The Jazz will face another decade of mediocrity without a true superstar, is the thought.
I disagree. Because I think they already have a superstar in development. His name is Derrick Favors.
Since even before training camp, when Favors and Gordon Hayward both participated by invitation at the 2013 Men’s National Team Mini-Camp, I have studied Favors in the belief he is far and away the most elite talent on this team. I watched him grab 10.88 rebounds per preseason game in only 26.5 minutes of play. When the regular season started, I examined the first quarter worth of games with a fine toothed comb, analyzing his rate of production quarter by quarter and according to frequency of shots.
All of this has only deepened my belief that Favors has the ability to become a superstar. Where once I saw All-Defensive potential and plentiful offensive questions, I now see the rough gem of a possible number one offensive option combined with the impressive defensive package.
I know this claim will be met with great skepticism from Jazz fans, and even more so from national NBA observers. But it’s true, and it’s plain to see if you look closely.
Favors’ true shooting percentage this season is .556, substantially higher than that of any other young player on the team, including Jeremy Evans and Alec Burks. His offensive rating of 107 points per 100 possessions hangs above Trey Burke (104), Alec Burks (103), Gordon Hayward (102), and Enes Kanter (96). His 1.3 offensive win shares is 44% more than next highest on the team, Gordon Hayward.
Not convinced? With Trey Burke as an unrestricted starter, these numbers jump to .595 TS% and 115 ORtg.
To put in perspective how good that is, if done over the course of the season (a reasonable premise if Burke hadn’t been injured to start the year) that TS% would be top 20 in the league and above players like Kevin Love, James Harden, Damien Lillard, Al Horford, Dirk Nowitzki, Dwyane Wade, and Stephen Curry. The 115 ORtg would be top 25 in the league and best Harden, Curry, Paul George, Eric Bledsoe, Tony Parker, and Carmelo Anthony.
If you believe these numbers should be taken as a product of Trey Burke’s ability running the offense more than Favors’ ability and potential as an offensive player, then maybe a quick comparison to Karl Malone is appropriate. In his last 18 games with a true NBA starting level point guard to get him the ball, Favors is shooting 56% from the field. How many seasons did Karl Malone shoot that well in his 18 years with the greatest passer in the history of the NBA, John Stockton? One: .562 in 89-90. How much should we devalue Malone’s offensive potency because of Stockton’s greatness? Why give Burke more credit for his post player’s game than the man with his statue outside ESA?
And a bonus question: Favors’ free throw percentage in this span is 81.3%. How many seasons did Malone reach this? Try none.
If Favors were given more offensive responsibility and opportunity, would his efficiency decrease? Certainly. He is not Karl Malone, nor anything like unto him. But he is a 22-year-old player in his first season as a starter, and these numbers are a literal reflection of his game thus far. He should not be featured centrally in the offense because he is the primary scorer the team so desperately needs. He should be given that chance because he’s shown that he could be that scorer, and because he’s earned the opportunity with his play.
Most superstars are not born. There is, after all, one LeBron James. They are made in potential, collections of elite raw ability and (sometimes) matching drive that, when given the training, facilities, and opportunity, can mature into elite performers by the standards of even other elite professionals. But to fulfill that potential, there comes a time when those who depend on their performance must trust them to become more than they now are.
Other young star bigs in the making are receiving such trust from their organizations this season. Comparing them to Derrick Favors illustrates how worthy he is of the same faith.
Anthony Davis (1st) and DeMarcus Cousins (9th) were both ranked above Derrick Favors (10th) in ESPN’s recent listing of the NBA’s top 25 players under 25 years of age, primarily because of, in Kevin Pelton’s words, Favors’ “untapped potential as a scorer.” I think few, if any, in the league would question that the superstars in the making in Davis and Cousins represent superior offensive talents to Favors.
Their shot charts this season may give cause for reconsideration.
In his first season as a starter, Favors is shooting at or above the league average from every possible post area, as well as along both the right and left baseline and from the free throw area. It’s easy to overlook how excellent this is without comparison. So here is the season shot chart for Anthony Davis, ESPN’s #1 player under 25 (in his second season as a starter).
Davis has the better jump shot at this point, but the areas of the floor where post players operate (in the lane, the right and left block, the right and left baselines, and the free throw area) show a different story. Favors is shooting at a comparable rate to Davis beneath the hoop and near the right baseline. In the four other areas, Favors is superior. As for that jumpshot, Davis’ stellar 77.6% from the line is not looking out of reach given Favors’ 81.3% his last 18 games.
Now compare Favors shooting to the shot chart of DeMarcus Cousins, the unquestioned top young offensive talent among the league’s bigs.
Once again, the chart shows the truth. Where Cousins outstrips Favors from a single area of the floor where post players traverse, Favors betters Cousins in four.
Taken together, the shot charts show Favors is superior to either Davis or Cousins in eight sections of the floor, roughly equal in three, and inferior in only one. That’s right, the only area in the post where Derrick Favors has not shot as well or better than these two supreme offensive talents is on the left block, where DeMarcus Cousins is tearing it up. Anywhere else in the post, the numbers suggest Favors is as good or a better bet to score.
Yet the Kings trust Cousins with 16.8 field goal attempts per game, and the Pelicans trust Davis with 14.1. This season, the Jazz trust Favors with 10.5. It isn’t enough. Not enough to win as the team should. (In the last 12 games, Favors has averaged 12.9 shots in the seven wins and 8.6 in the five losses.) And not enough to cultivate the offensive game of the team’s only potential superstar in the making.
Take a moment, Jazz fans, to imagine this season’s Derrick Favors producing 17-18 points on 14 shots plus 10 or 11 rebounds and rarely being in foul trouble, allowing him to be aggressive on the defensive end for whole games rather than whole quarters. The analysis I’ve shared in my recent series of posts suggests such a scenario may well be possible.
What’s better is that profile represents a Derrick Favors very much still in development. As good as his offensive game has been this season, of all the Jazz’s young players, he is likely the one with the most untapped offensive ability left to cultivate. Personally, I find that prospect exhilarating.
Do I believe the Jazz will continue to win half their games for the remainder of the season? No. But neither do I expect them to have a top one or two pick in the draft. (My money is on somewhere in the 4-6 range.) Will the Jazz season of “tanking” for the stars result in the addition of a franchise level talent? I don’t know. But if not, I for one am not worried.
They already have one in Derrick Favors.