Favors, Gobert Feast as Jazz Look to Reestablish the Roll

October 19th, 2018 | by Dan Clayton

A common sight on Wednesday: Utah’s big men finishing inside. (Rocky Widner via espn.com)

Throughout the preseason and again in Wednesday’s regular campaign opener, the Utah Jazz have been clearly prioritizing the involvement of their diving big men. As a result, it was the visiting duo of Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert who feasted like kings in Sacramento. The main course: pick-and-roll.

Getting the ball to the roll man is hard these days, both based on how teams are choosing to guard the P&R across the league and based on Utah’s specific challenges. Where Favors and Gobert are concerned, opponents know they have two above-average roll finishers on their hands, so the approach has often been to put extra bodies in their path instead and thereby force the ball handler to take tough pull-up jumpers.

But Utah is employing a bunch of different tricks to open up the roll game. They are rolling early, swapping out ball handling personnel, and changing the location, angle and direction of picks to keep defenses off balance and produce different outcomes.

And it’s working.

Favors and Gobert finished 10 possessions1 directly out of P&R action on Wednesday — and scored on eight of them. Gobert turned the ball over once, and Fav had one 0-for-2 trip to the line after being fouled on a roll. Other than that, the Jazz got points every time they managed to get the ball to their rolling bigs. It’s the basketball equivalent of sending the fullback up the middle for a near-guaranteed gain. Need a couple of yards? Find Aaron Ripkowski. Need a score out of your halfcourt offense? Get the ball to Gobert or Favors in P&R.

Favors in particular had a stretch on Wednesday where he just beasted the Kings’ defenders. Utah ran the Favors-Joe Ingles P&R for several straight possessions in the late third and early fourth quarters, and there was little the Sacramento big men could do to slow him. 

Someone who has seen the league’s next-level tracking data confirmed for me that the Ingles-Favors P&R was the most potent among Utah’s most common combinations last season. That’s true both in terms of the points created for Jingles and Fav directly and for the overall performance of offense on any play that included a P&R between those two. It’s easy to see why: both guys can score in a variety of ways, so defenses bend differently when they’re involved in the core action. They have to respect Jingles’ floater, Favors’ short-roll pull-up jumper, and a dozen different iterations. It’s a dangerous combination, and the Kings can testify to that.

The Kings saw a lot of Ingles and Favors on Wednesday. They also saw examples of the various P&R wrinkles Utah is deploying to get their big men a few clean P&R looks every game. For example, Favors rolls early here, slipping the pick before Ingles had really used it. This is a good counter to bigs who switch or hedge high, but in this case, Favors does it because Harry Giles Jr. isn’t really actively guarding the play at all. So Favors dives early and gets the angle on the rookie. There’s nothing left for Giles to do but foul.

On the very next play, Ingles and Favors ran a DHO-roll2 on the left wing. Favors rolls behind the play this time, catching the ball with a head of steam. Iman Shumpert had to reach in and foul to stop an inevitable Favors score3.

After a rushed Jae Crowder step-back and a quarter break, Joe and Derrick got right back to it. Willie Caulie-Stein hedges when the Jazz go straight into P&R early in the set, and once again Favors is able to get an angle that the young King can’t recover from. WCS slides back in front of Favors, but by that point he’s deep enough that it doesn’t matter. A quick fake, and Favors scores easily over him.

On the next play, Georges Niang wasn’t spaced right on the initial Fav-Ingles action, so Fav was cut off and had to back it out. He called for an Alec Burks DHO-roll on the right side, but Burks missed the floater as he curled into the lane off the Favors screen.

But on the next play, Favors read the defense and flipped the screen. Watch how he initially screens for Ingles to go from right to left, but as Cauley-Stein starts to hedge it, Favors flips the direction. The defender now has to lunge laterally to show on the ball, which means Favors is once again free to slip to the basketball without a defender, and the corner helper doesn’t cut him off.

Utah just kept going back to the well. Later in the quarter, he collaborated with Ricky Rubio on a high screen. Once again, Sacramento hedged high, so Rubio denied the screen and Favors had nobody in front of him. Rubio — who didn’t have a great game on Wednesday — even gets the ball deflected, but is still able to flick it to Favors who is by that point standing alone under the hoop.

It was just an onslaught. For several minutes, this game was fully about Favors. Favors might be Utah’s fourth or fifth best player by most objective measures, but how many teams have a fourth option who’s capable of serving as the designated bucket-getter for long stretches like that? This is a luxury for the Jazz.

Granted, this was against Sacramento. Utah won’t see as much defensive indecision at the point of attack OR sloppy back-side help when they play the likes of Houston and Golden State. But what we saw when the Favors P&R anchored the offense for a stretch was all the different ways the Jazz will adjust the attack so that they can deliver the ball to the bigs and not just shoot over the defense in P&R situations. Denies. Flipping the pick. Releasing early. Utah is determined to deploy the roller.

And so far we’ve mostly focused on Favors. Gobert is an elite roll finisher; in 2017-18, possessions he used (with a shooting possession or turnover) on the roll produced 1.28 points on average. That’s lofty territory. Among guys with as many roll opportunities as Gobert per game, only Clint Capela (1.34) was better. And that was after a slow start to the season.

Favors’ output is a little lower when he uses the possession himself — 1.10 points on average last year, good for the 58th percentile. But that’s still above average, and people with access to the numbers tell me that the Jazz’s overall efficiency on all plays involving a Favors P&R was almost identical to plays built around a Gobert P&R. This is likely because the defense has to react differently to Favors’ diverse scoring tools, so the difference in his scoring directly as the roll man is offset by the way his rolls set the table for others.

But in both Favors’ and Gobert’s cases, the best outcome is to get the ball to them whenever possible. When you back out transition possessions, loose-ball fouls and intentional fouling at the close of games, NBA offenses produce an ORtg in the low 90s on halfcourt possessions. So a few extra possessions per game of finding the angle to hit Favors (110 points per 100 roll finishes) or Gobert (124) rumbling to the basket could help the Jazz inch their offensive rank from average to good. And that’s why Utah is clearly making a priority of pushing back against the defensive pressure and creating ways for those guys to finish the play. 

Just ask the Kings.

Dan Clayton

Dan Clayton

Dan covered Utah Jazz basketball for more than 10 years, including as a radio analyst for the team’s Spanish-language broadcasts from 2010 to 2014. He now lives and works in New York City, but contributes regularly to Salt City Hoops, FanRag and BBALLBreakdown.
Dan Clayton

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  1. Pingback: Salt City Seven: Ingles’ Blistering Start the Highlight of Utah’s First Week | Salt City Hoops

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