Reward the big.
It’s a frequent mantra on the hardwood. If a front court player sprints up the floor, give him the fast break dunk. If a center is anchoring a defense and cleaning the glass, throw him a bone occasionally by giving him a shot in the post. In a game where the ball stays predominantly in the hands of the point guard and wings out at the perimeter, front court players’ offensive involvement is dependent on smaller teammates. Without consistent and purposeful passing into the post, bigs can easily become lost offensively. When that happens, it can filter into other aspects of their game.
This is happening to Derrick Favors this season. And where Trey Burke’s insertion into the starting lineup has improved so many facets of the team’s play (.500 record with him, .077 before) , this is one area where it has done damage.
Before Burke entered the starting lineup, Favors averaged 10.2 rebounds a game, 7.3 on the defensive glass. Since Burke has captained the Jazz, Favors’ rebounding has dropped to 8.1 per game, only 5.3 on the defensive glass. (Note that this dip largely corresponds to Enes Kanter being replaced as a starter by Marvin Williams, a player who offers less competition for rebounds. Common sense suggests Favors’ rebounding would go up when paired with a stretch four, not down.) For a team second to last in the league in defensive rebounding, and with the 7th worst rebounding differential (-2.3), this is a big deal.
Why is it happening? Because when led by their point guard of the future, the Jazz aren’t rewarding the big.
Recently, I analyzed in detail Favors’ per minute production for each quarter through the first 22 games of the season. (Find my observations and recommendations on per quarter performance here.) In the process I observed an undeniable correlation between Favors’ offensive involvement and his defensive rebounding. When one goes down, so does the other.
When Favors gets four or more shots in a quarter (or the equivalent from the free throw line), he grabs a defensive rebound in each four minutes of play. That would be eight defensive rebounds a game in his present 31.7 minutes a contest. When he gets three shots or fewer, however, that rate decreases by 36%. When Favors is less involved on the offensive end, it substantially decreases his activity on the defensive glass, a crucial area for this Jazz team.
Even worse, however, is how lack of involvement affects how often he fouls. When Favors takes three or more shots in a quarter, his fouls per minute stay at a steady rate, whether it be three shots or seven. When those shots drop to two, however, his fouls per minute skyrocket by 46%.
Part of this data is certainly the result of fouls rather than the cause: Favors fouls rapidly in a quarter and is put on the bench or forced to be passive, decreasing his involvement on the offensive end. This is particularly true in the second and third quarters, the majority of the quarters in which Favors took two or fewer shots.
But this fails to account for the entirety of the increase in foul rate. Not only are numerous first and fourth quarters included in the data set, but the average minutes played in these quarters is 6:49, nearly seven minutes. That is very close to the 7:20 average minutes played in the quarters where Favors shot three times in the quarter, in which his foul rate did not significantly increase.
The implication is fairly obvious: when Derrick Favors gets lost on the offensive end, he starts forcing the issue, gets fouls, and by doing so takes himself out of the game.
This issue is a growing concern because it is a problem exacerbated by Trey Burke’s play at point guard. Many would argue the opposite, that Burke has been the best thing to ever happen to Derrick Favors short of a 49 million dollar contract. This is true as far as it extends to efficiency: since Burke cracked the starting lineup, Favors has shot 55% from the field compared to 48% previously. But the opposite is true of opportunity. Before Burke, Favors shot the ball 10.9 times a game; since, that has dropped to 9.9.
The last three games support these conclusions. In the win against the Lakers, Favors shot the ball 15 times. grabbed 14 rebounds (ten defensive), and only fouled twice. In the two games since against the Clippers and Bobcats, however, he’s averaged only 7.5 FGA. It may be no coincidence that number comes with 6.5 rebounds (only 3.5 defensive) and 4.5 fouls per game. Cut his attempts from the field in half, his rebounds follow and his fouls double. Taken as an isolated small sample, it would certainly be coincidence. Taken in light of a 22 game trend to start the season, perhaps not.
Favors has arguably been the team’s best player this season, and inarguably the most consistent major contributor. If his defensive rebounding remains depressed and his foul rate accelerated because this young, starless team can’t find a way to share the basketball better, it may well harm both the team’s ability to compete and Favors’ individual development.
The data suggests the team should aim to get Derrick Favors one shot (or the equivalent from the free throw line) every two and a half minutes of play. Not only would this likely help the offense (he does have a TS% of .588 with Burke starting, after all), but it may well fuel his energy on the defensive glass while helping him maintain focus to restrain himself from getting the one or two fouls that come from trying to make something happen but instead get him on the bench. A glass eating Derrick Favors who doesn’t foul would be a great advantage for a team that needs ever competitive advantage it can get this season.
Derrick Favors needs to shoot more. That he deserves the opportunity warrants a post all its own. (Don’t worry, it’s coming.)