Is Derrick Favors Starved for Shots?

January 3rd, 2014 | by Clint Johnson
(Photo by Brock Williams-Smith/NBAE via Getty Images)

(Photo by Brock Williams-Smith/NBAE via Getty Images)

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.)

Clint Johnson

Clint Johnson

Clint Johnson is a professional author, writing educator, and editor. In addition to his writing center work at Salt Lake Community College, he designed, coordinates, and teaches in an experimental author residency program for a West Valley City public charter school. A frequent presenter at both writing and educational conferences, he writes about the Jazz as a break from his other writing work.
Clint Johnson

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11 Comments

  1. cw says:

    Interesting but I don’t buy. 1. He’s only taking one less shot a game. 2. Very small sample size. Even 22 games is a tiny sample size.

    • Clint Johnson says:

      It’s not about the one less shot a game, but the frequent passages of many games that pass without his being heavily involved in the offense. My claim, which you can disagree with if you please, is that the team would benefit from his having a more prominent offense role than is typical this season. The one less shot with Burke starting is important in that context, as a decrease is exactly what my analysis suggests will hurt Favors’ defensive rebounding and increase his likelihood to foul.

      As for whether my premise is correct, we’ll see as the season goes along.

      • cw says:

        Do you have access to Skyvu data or anything like that. Because it seems to me that small sample size combined with the fact that he’s only taking one less shot a game undermine your argument, but if you could show evidence of “frequent passages of many games that pass without his being heavily involved in the offense” it might be more convincing. Specifically, I wonder if data shows that he’s had fewer touches or even post-ups, something it seems like he did more of before Burke. But again, your trying to prove something psychological via inference, which seems like it will always be pretty difficult.

        • Clint Johnson says:

          Do you mean SportVU tracking data? Not beyond what is available at NBA.com/stats, which gives close touches, elbow touches, half court touches per game, that kind of thing but nothing examining stretches of games. Also, I don’t have such data comparing before Burke to after, unfortunately. What I do have is a chart of quarter by quarter information I compiled myself. (This is the reason I only did 22 games, it took a lot of work. I compiled it then spent a few weeks filtering through the data and finding patterns).

          The sample size is a limitation, certainly. But I have 88 quarters worth of data. In the 35 quarters where Favors took two or fewer shots, he got a shot about every 5:30 of play and grabbed a defensive rebound every 6:15. In the 20 quarters where he got five or more shots, he shot the ball once every 2:10 or so and grabbed a defensive rebound every 3:45.

          The data I have suggests that if Favors were given between 12 and 13 shots a game in the minutes he now plays (one shot every two and a half minutes of play, as I say in the post), he would average about 7.7 defensive rebounds a contest. Cut those shots to 8 per game, his defensive rebounds would drop to
          5 per game in the same minutes.

          In the recent span when the Jazz have gone 7 of 13, Favors has averaged 12.9 shots and 8.4 defensive rebounds per contest in the wins. In the losses, he’s averaged 8.7 shots and 5.2 defensive rebounds. Those numbers are very close to the predictions from my analysis.

          The sample size may be too small to produce high confidence in the conclusion for some, but it isn’t purely psychological. The empirical evidence is there, and the last three weeks of games have born out the prediction well.

          • cw says:

            I understand it’s a lot of work. And I don’t mean to denigrate that. And it’s interesting or I wouldn’t be commenting on it. But, I do think you are premature in suggesting a causation for your correlation. And obviously I could be wrong.

            But anyway, what you are saying, if he gets two shots or less in a certain number of quarters he gets (on average, I assume) 2 defensive rebounds in that quarter. If he gets 5 shots or more per quarter, he gets 3.2 defensive rebounds in that quarter. So he gets three more shots and that “leads” to one more defensive rebound. Because it is only one rebound (there is a lot of randomness in where rebounds land, they are ball bouncing off off the rim). over such a small sample size, along with sometimes misleading effects of averaging, it seems that it easily just be chance. You might what to consider what is the rebound rate in the 33 quarters when he takes between 2 and 5 shots tell you? What happens when you add those quarters into the averages? And also might what to look at the foul status and who is guarding him in the 2 shot quarter vrs the 5 shot quarters.

          • Clint Johnson says:

            This reply is for the comment above. Sorry, I didn’t see an option to reply to your follow up.

            5 shots per quarter: .464 FGA/minute and .26 DRB/minute
            3-4 shots per quarter: .327 FGA/minute and .191 DRB/minute
            2 shots per quarter: .185 FGA/minute and .16 DRB/minute

            I plotted these out and the lines are very similar. I also looked at per minute performance for all other major basic stats. None of those showed a correlation to FGA rate, with the possible exception of fouls. That is another reason I suspect there is something to this. There was a lot of stability to other aspects of Favors’ game, including offensive rebounding. That stability makes me think there is more to the FGA/DRB relation than a ghost in the numbers.

            And thanks for commenting. No offense taken, be sure. I appreciate it when others offer thoughtful, well-reasoned perspectives that differ from mine. And there may not be causation here. But personally, I think that is more likely than not.

          • Clint Johnson says:

            Favors per 36 this season:

            Fewer than 10 FGA/GM: 9.76 FGA, 53% FG, 6.21 DRB
            10+ FGA/GM: 13.63 FGA, 52% FG, 7.59 DRB
            12+ FGA/GM: 15.61 FGA, 54% FG, 8.48 DRB
            13+ FGA/GM: 16.54 FGA, 53% FG, 9.14 DRB

  2. Brent says:

    I like it. It seems though that shot attempts by Favors and rebounds by Favors shouldn’t be correlated but they are. Earlier in the year, pre-Burke, we shot the ball worse, so there were more rebounds to be had. i.e. more misses = more rebound opportunities.
    Still, I agree that Favors should get more shots.

    • Clint Johnson says:

      Personally, I’m not surprised at a correlation. There is a long history of bigs needing to be enticed by offensive involvement to stay engaged on the defensive end of the floor. As for the more rebound opportunities, that is true of the offensive glass, but his offensive rebounding rate is fairly steady regardless of his offensive involvement. It’s his defensive rebounding that suffers.

      • squareinthecircle says:

        This is coinciding with what I’m seeing as better play down low from Favors. He is showing me moves offensively I didn’t know he had recently.

        • Clint Johnson says:

          I think he has a lot of moves that are pretty polished. He’s still feeling his way in two areas: 1) when to use his moves against which defender (little turn around fade away on the left block against Larry Sanders, not a good idea) and 2) not hurrying too much, which has always been his major issue. After the win against the Bucks, he talked about how coaches and teammates are constantly reminding him not to go too fast. With more experience, both these will improve.

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