Editor’s note: This is the penultimate in the annual series from Salt City Hoops ranking the current players on the Utah Jazz roster. Throughout the preseason, we’ll count up through the current Jazz roster, from worst to first, profiling each player as we go along. The profiles are individually written by Salt City Hoops’ staff of writers, while the ranking was selected by me (Andy Larsen). To go through JazzRank articles from this or past preseasons, visit our JazzRank category page. Derrick Favors is #2.
The time is now for Derrick Favors. The Utah Jazz let their free agent frontcourt walk this offseason: Al Jefferson signed a big contract with the Bobcats, and Paul Millsap is in a two-year transition deal with the Hawks. These actions pointed to the franchise’s confidence in their young power forward, only to later be solidified with a four-year, $49 million contract extension before the start of the season.
Favors, the 3rd overall pick in 2010, was acquired in the trade that sent franchise point guard Deron Williams to the Nets. Favors was given several seasons to develop, starting only 21 of 164 career games with the Jazz (contrasting the 23 starts in 56 games with the Nets during his rookie year).
In 2012-13, the third-year power forward showed improvements in nearly all categories, averaging a career-high 9.4 points and 7.1 rebounds in just over 23 minutes. His 1.7 blocks ranked 13th in the NBA, and only JaVale McGee of the Nuggets blocked more shots (2.0) in less playing time.
Last season, the Jazz offense was run by a committee of point guards, with assist leader Mo Williams appearing in only 46 games due to injuries. Williams, Earl Watson and Randy Foye–guards who all made starts last year–are no longer on the roster. Jamaal Tinsley, who started 32 games last season, was re-signed only four days before the season opener.
Utah traded up in the 2013 Draft, acquiring point guard Trey Burke with the ninth selection. It looked as if Burke would get handed the reins and have an opportunity to largely define the Jazz offense. Those plans will have to be put on hold due to a fractured right finger the rookie sustained during preseason. After undergoing surgery, Burke is expected to miss the first few weeks of the season, and the Jazz will once again rely on a committee to run the offense. This will likely have an impact on the development of Favors and the other bigs on the team, who are waiting to build a consistent on-court rapport and comfort level with the point guards.
Due to the shuffled roster and uncertain guard situation, Favors’ offense may require some patience. Without anyone on Utah’s roster consistently able to command double-teams, Favors will need to pick his spots offensively and not settle for bad shots. He will have to adjust to more defensive attention, especially if the Jazz go to him as a first or second option. His 7.4 field goal attempts per game will likely double, and while he will still get high percentage shots and putbacks, his shooting percentage could initially dip.
However, more responsibility on offense will lead to more facilitating opportunities. Last season, Favors averaged 1.0 assists and 1.7 turnovers. He rarely handled the ball, especially in his role off the bench. As a starter, Favors will be counted on to pass out of double teams and make quick decisions to maintain the flow of the offense. Expect his assists to increase, but the real stat to track is whether he can keep turnovers down as his possessions accumulate.
Utah, despite a number of three-point inclined guards, attempted less than 17 threes per game last season (28th in the league). If they continue to keep the ball inside, Favors should average a double-double, and easily slide into the Most Improved conversation.
While Favors has the opportunity to make great strides with his offense, he has already proven himself a solid defender–something the Jazz have definitely noticed during his tenure. Favors will be the key of a strong interior defense, as it will enable the team to stay afloat in low scoring, slower paced games.
If the play of Favors and Enes Kanter lives up to potential, then Utah was able to gain a formidable frontcourt in the trade for Deron Williams. The Jazz have created and stuck with their blueprint for a post-superstar era: part foresight, part solid draft moves, and part strategic aggressiveness by the front office–both in trading Williams early and letting Jefferson and Millsap walk.
Utah has likely designated 2013-14 as time to evaluate players in starting roles, with the promise of cap flexibility next season. However, with the quick extension to Favors, it is clear where he stands in the team’s future.