Two Bigs, Ten Games, Opposite Trajectories

November 30th, 2013 | by Clint Johnson
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

In the ten games before his injury, Enes Kanter’s game appeared overmatched by Derrick Favors’. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter are the core duo to the Jazz’s grand design. One an athletic marvel and defensive game changer; the other an irresistible force with the polished offense of a cowhide prodigy — an anchor in the post for each side of the floor. It just makes so much sense.

In theory.

But in practice, at least recently, the formula has changed somewhat. In the ten games prior to Enes Kanter’s right ankle injury (in which Favors and Kanter both started all but one game), Favors was not only the better defender of the young bigs but the superior offensive player as well. That wasn’t part of the plan, but it looks like the plan might need to change.

Kanter started off the season dominating offensively. I don’t think that’s too strong a term for a twenty-one year old center averaging 18.6 points per game on 55% shooting from the field and 88% from the line. Five games into the season, the Turk looked like a favorite for the Most Improved Player Award — and primary post scorer for the Jazz this season.

Since that time, Derrick Favors has outplayed Kanter in practically all aspects of the game. Some may be surprised, even angry, at Coach Corbin’s decision to move Kanter to the bench. If so, they probably haven’t looked at the numbers in the last ten games both Favors and Kanter shared the court.

Enes Kanter, once seen as a superhuman rebounding machine, was outrebounded by Favors in all ten games. Worse, he was nearly doubled up in the category, 5.9 rebounds for Kanter to 10.1 for Favors. For a player as strong as Kanter, who grabbed 18.3% of available boards as a rookie, 5.9 rebounds a game while playing 30.4 minutes simply isn’t good enough. Not close.

But what is more startling, in regard to both players, are their offensive numbers during this stretch. Favors, who has so often been characterized as offensively deficient, averaged 14.1 points on 50% from the field. In the same span, Kanter produced 11.4 points on 47% shooting. Not only do the averages recommend Favors, but so too does consistency. Of those ten games, Favors outscored his frontcourt colleague in seven.

In this ten-game span, Favors did play several more minutes per game, but their shots attempts were very similar (11.2 FGA/G for Favors to 10.5 FGA/G for Kanter). Favors produced 1.26 points per shot to Kanter’s 1.09 and earned an offensive rating of 101 points produced per 100 possessions to Kanter’s 92. Recently, the defender has been the clearly superior offensive option.

Which starts to mean a lot more when the rest of the game is taken into account. As expected, Favors was the far better defensive player in this stretch, adding 1.7 steals and 1.5 blocks to his just over ten rebounds a game. His 105 DRtg isn’t great by his standards, but it’s heads and tails above the 113 Kanter earned over the same stretch. And for good measure, throw in Favors’ 40% higher assists percentage over the span.

Combine both sides of the floor (points produced and allowed) in the ten games preceding Kanter’s injury, and Favors gave the Jazz a huge +17 point advantage per 100 possessions over Enes Kanter.

It’s far too early to take a ten-game trend and project the future of twenty-two and twenty-one year old players. All Kanter’s offensive potential and polish remain intact, as does his elite strength. It’s natural that such a young player should struggle at times when asked to play double the minutes he played per night the previous season, as Kanter has. He will gather himself and, with more time to adjust to his role and improve his stamina, I expect both his offensive efficiency and rebounding to start trending upward once more.

But that doesn’t mean Favors steady progress should be ignored. His 16.5 PER (the only major Jazz contributor to boast a figure above the league average 15) names him the Jazz’s best player through the first 20% of the season. Yet his numbers of 13 points, 9.9 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.5 steals, and 1.4 blocks are really just okay, given his ability. 48% from the field? Yeah, okay. 61% from the free throw line? Not okay in the least, as he has the form of a 70% shooter already.

Derrick Favors has been the Jazz’s best overall player, and recently their best offensive post option, and he hasn’t really started playing well yet.

What does this mean? Hopefully, the coaching staff will game plan to get Favors the ball earlier and more often on offense, which they’ve yet to do. Including the Nov. 29th home loss against the Suns, Favors has taken fewer than ten shots in five consecutive games (eight per game). This is in spite of earning five attempts from the line per night and shooting 68% from the stripe in that span. And while Favors only averages 11.8 points per game in the last five games, he’s doing so at a very efficient 1.48 points per shot. To put that in perspective, given the 11.2 shots per game Trey Burke is already hoisting, Favors would produce 16.6 points per game at his recent clip. Burke is producing 9.4.

As the team’s best all-around player and most consistent post option, Derrick Favors needs to be a greater focal point of the offense. Doing so will not only benefit the Jazz on the offensive end but in all aspects of the game, because the more involved Favors is on offense, the better his overall production. In the five games this season where he took 12 or more shots, he’s averaging 18.5 points, 12.5 rebounds (including 8.5 on the defensive glass), two steals, and two blocks while shooting 58% from the floor. He’s even turning the ball over at a lower rate, two a game to his season normal two and a half.

As for Kanter, my hope is he goes back to the approach that worked so well early on in the season: opportunistic scoring. Crash the offensive glass, cut to the rim, run the floor, take the wide-open jumper when it’s there. If the Jazz offense can simply be respectable, Kanter can score well into the teens every night just taking what the defense gives him through his diversity and hustle. To get that consistently respectable offense, I marshal the dulcet tones of Christopher Walken as I say: “I gotta have more Favors!”

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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4 Comments

  1. Favors’ PER has only just recently popped up above the average of 15.0 for the season — like in the last handful of games or less. Hope this trend continues.

  2. Clint Johnson says:

    It was in the last ten games or so, though I can’t specify exactly when. That being said, Favors’ PER has steadily been climbing since a tough stretch in games 4-6, including two really tough games against Brooklyn and Chicago. Also, keep in mind Favors only has two games in single digits this season, the same number as Hayward despite the fact that Favors takes a third fewer shots. Kanter has 5 games in single digits. Favors has easily been the most consistent player on the team this season.

  3. robin says:

    What happened to Kanter? It is a bit puzzling. His effort and energy dropped right off. His D has always been atrocious, but at least when he plays like an enthusiastic board crashing maniac he provides some intimidation, and we haven’t seen this for a while. But Kanter plays far too much below the rim and gets blocked instead of throwing it down. Hopefully he can get back to rebounding the ball, and the offense will come.

    • Clint Johnson says:

      Kanter is a free radical. At the beginning of the season when he was scoring so well, he frequently went outside the system, which helped him be in position to grab so many offensive rebounds and gave him hustle scoring opportunities. But its the reason Kanter so often drives the coaching staff nuts. They’ve been harping on the importance of Kanter doing his job, being where he’s supposed to be when he’s supposed to be there, and it’s clearly weighing down his game. He’s thinking a lot and isn’t comfortable at some of the disciplined things they’re demanding of him. It will take some time for him to get comfortable.

      The likely outcome is he will learn the team’s system better, grow more comfortable, and increase in effectiveness in the back half of the year. We just need to be patient.

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