After a slow start to his NBA career as a rookie for the New Jersey Nets in 2011, Derrick Favors has steadily improved during his time with the Utah Jazz, morphing into a force on both sides of the court through his shot blocking and frequent forays to the charity stripe.
Favors’ success was the sole bright spot in Utah’s embarrassing dismantling at the hands of the Spurs in last year’s playoffs. He averaged 11.8 points and 9.5 rebounds, and the one game in which he started was the only contest of the sweep even worthy of being called a contest.
Favors’ improvement throughout last season, culminating in his solid playoff performance, has earned him the support of the Jazz organization, and he looks to be a major franchise centerpiece going forward.
Indeed, Favors has played well enough to occasionally break into a starting frontcourt, typically occupied by the tandem of Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap. Though Favors struggled during his brief starting stint this season (he shot just 29 percent from the field in his two starts so far), this is largely due to the dysfunctional lineup in which he started those games.
In both starts, Favors was forced to play alongside Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, rather than in place of one of them. And though Jefferson is capable of sliding to the 4 at times, Millsap is not a viable option at small forward, despite his improved outside shooting.
While the experiment of playing Millsap at the 3 was worth a shot, his inclusion in a lineup alongside Jefferson and Favors simply creates too much congestion in the lane, keeping the still offensively limited Favors from having the room he needs to operate in the paint.
As a result, the Jazz must consider moving Millsap and/or Jefferson to the bench, or even out of Utah, lest they stifle Favors’ development and keep him from fulfilling his massive potential.
Given the chance to operate without two other big men playing alongside him, Favors could certainly make the Jazz glad that they chose to make him a priority. Favors only started at center in five games last season, but he was highly effective during those starts, averaging 15.8 points, 11.2 rebounds and 1.6 assists in 34.0 minutes per game.
Favors has continued to play at a high level this season, and has been arguably the Jazz’s top big thus far. While Jefferson has averaged 16.4 points, 10.9 rebounds and one block in 32.4 minutes per game this season, Favors’ adjusted stats with that amount of playing time round out to 13.3 points, 10.5 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game.
Though Favors’ lacks Jefferson’s interior scoring touch, he is not as far behind as it might appear, and his vastly superior defensive instincts more than make up for it. If given the chance to step into Jefferson’s role as Utah’s starting center, Favors would almost certainly rank in the top five in the NBA in blocks per game, while also placing highly in rebounds and player efficiency rating.
The Jazz are only an average NBA team at the moment (they’ve started the season at a respectable, but unremarkable, 8-7), and they must focus on developing the roster’s youth in order to re-enter true contention.
That youth movement starts with Favors, who has the potential to be a future Defensive Player of the Year, and who stands as a strong offensive option simply by virtue of his size and athleticism.
He still has plenty of room for improvement, but the former Georgia Tech standout has responded well to his increased playing time this season, and should only continue to be awarded for his excellent production on the hardwood with a spot in the starting lineup.
All stats accurate as of November 27, 2012.