One of the best young big men in the NBA averaged just over 21 minutes per game last season.
Derrick Favors could easily start at the power forward position for a number of teams around the league. Unfortunately for him, he happens to be on a Utah Jazz squad that has a pretty decent incumbent at the 4 spot by the name of Paul Millsap.
But while Millsap's production in 2011-12 (16.6 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 21.85 PER) makes it nearly impossible to bench him in favor of Favors (no pun intended), the Jazz desperately need to find a way to work their 21-year-old future star into the lineup.
It may not be all that daunting of a task: When Utah had Millsap, Favors and Al Jefferson on the floor at the same time last season (at the 3, 4 and 5 spots, respectively), the team was at its most efficient on both offense (1.22 points per possession) and defense (0.81 points per possession allowed), according to 82games.com.
Favors is a solidly-built (6'10", 248 pounds), athletic big who is more than capable of playing both positions in the frontcourt. Even as his game continues to develop, Favors' per-36 minute averages last season were nothing short of impressive for a player with a mere 36 career starts under his belt (14.9 points, 11.1 rebounds).
Favors may be barely old enough to drink, but he already has the physical tools needed to excel at the NBA level. His total rebound rate of 17.7 in 2011-12 was the 13th-best mark in the NBA, and Favors's block rate of 3.8 percent ranked among the league leaders as well.
Although the Jazz were swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the playoffs, Favors made the most of his brief stay in the postseason, averaging 11.8 points, 9.6 rebounds, 1.5 blocks and 1.3 steals per game. While the magnitude of the moment would have gotten the best of many of his peers, Favors took his game to another level when it mattered the most.
"Once he learns how to play the game, it's going to be trouble," said Jefferson after Utah was eliminated from the playoffs. "I hope I'm his teammate for the rest of my career."
This summer, Favors was chosen to be a part of the Select squad that practiced with the U.S. Men's National Team prior to the London Olympics, and the time spent scrimmaging against Kevin Love, Tyson Chandler and Anthony Davis will only serve as motivation for Favors going forward.
"I learned that I could compete with those guys," Favors told the Deseret News back in August. "But at the same time, l learned that I've got a lot of work to do to be on their level consistently."
If the Jazz had their sights set solely on the future, Favors would have started at power forward from the moment he arrived in Salt Lake City after being traded by the Nets during the 2010-11 season. However, with Millsap's contract set to expire at the end of the year, Utah may simply just be biding its time before handing the reins over to Favors in 2013.
Millsap and Favors are currently in the midst of a battle to decide who'll get the nod next to Jefferson, but to his credit, Favors is saying all of the right things when it comes to playing time. Although he'd like to be in the starting lineup, he's more concerned about being productive every time he steps onto the court.
"It really isn't no big deal to me," Favors told the Deseret News. "When I'm in the game, I just want to make the most of my minutes."
Whether it's this year or next, those minutes will certainly come. And when they do, Favors just might blossom into the best Jazz big man since Karl Malone.
Favors isn’t just the cornerstone of the Utah Jazz franchise going forward–he’s the next big thing at the power forward position in the NBA.
Just ask Al Jefferson.