What Derrick Favors Must Do to Become the Next Dwight Howard

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What Derrick Favors Must Do to Become the Next Dwight Howard
Melissa Majchrzak/Getty Images

Derrick Favors isn't Dwight Howard.

Accept that now, because it's never going to change. The two play different positions; Favors inhabits the 4, while Howard is a center who thinks he can also play power forward (he can't).

Taken literally, then, Favors can't be compared to Superman, the center. But their excellence, their standing in a thinning hierarchy of talented big men can be.

Though they play two different positions, they're asked to do many of the same things—rebound, score and defend. In that sense, they're the same.

They're also similar in importance. The Houston Rockets invested four years and $88 million in Howard to be a franchise cornerstone next to James Harden. By handing Favors a four-year, $49 million-plus extension, according to Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, the Utah Jazz are hoping for the same; Favors is someone they want to build around.

Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports
Howard is the standard for elite big men.

Wages remain vastly different because Howard is entering season No. 10, while Favors gears up for his fourth. Superman is also, well, better. He's been around longer and has become a household name. Favors is still best known for his inclusion in the trade that brought the then-New Jersey Nets Deron Williams.

Almost every up-and-coming big, however, gets pitted against Howard. I myself did it with Andre Drummond not too long ago. And ESPN Rise did it with Favors himself in 2008, before he even entered the NBA. That's what happens. Howard is the standard to which all other towers are held.

Can Favors match the level of notoriety Howard has achieved thus far? Can he make a name for himself as the NBA's next dominant behemoth? Or is he fated to reside where most others do—beneath him?

 

Is He Close?

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Not really.

The two entered the league under completely different circumstances. Howard joined an Orlando Magic squad ready to build around him. Favors found himself on a Nets faction looking for a big name to usher it into the next era. He wasn't given a chance to become that name and was then shipped off to a Jazz team flush with talented big man.

A lack of opportunity is part of the reason why Favors' numbers through four seasons pale in comparison to Howard's. The former is averaging 8.3 points and 6.3 rebounds per game to Howard's previous 15.1 and 11.6, respectively.

Per-36 minute averages become useful in situations like these, when one player (Howard) sees nearly 15 minutes more a night than another (Favors). 

Favors vs. Howard: The First Three Seasons
Player PTS REBS BLKS FG% FT% USG% PER
Favors 14.0 10.6 2.0 49.8 65.1 19.5 16.2
Howard 15.4 11.8 1.7 55.4 61.0 20.4 19.3

Basketball-Reference.

Turns out Favors is closer than we think there. Most of Howard's per-36 minutes numbers are better, but none of them put Favors' to shame. Their marginal difference in usage rate is especially telling, since it shows Howard wasn't a crushing focal point of Orlando's offense.

But you can't put an exact value on exposure. Three years into his career, Howard was already averaging over 35 minutes a night and was the most pivotal asset the Magic employed. Favors is only just receiving recognition for what he can do and is averaging just over 21 minutes of burn for his career.

Right now, he's entering a stage of his development Howard had already familiarized himself with.

 

Remain On the Court

Greg Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Favors must establish himself as a well-conditioned presence if he wishes to join the ranks of the elite.

Once again, Howard was averaging 35.4 minutes a night entering his fourth year. He has also seen at least 30 minutes of action through each of his first nine seasons, seven of which saw him notch at least 35. Favors, meanwhile, has hovered around the 20-minute mark for his entire career.

While his wings were clipped in ways Howard's never were—playing behind Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, for instance—Favors has to show he has the stamina to register 30-plus minutes a game.

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Howard is an on-court staple, so Favors must be too.

Think of all the low-post-oriented players who are used sparingly, like JaVale McGee. In fact, only five players classified as a forward and/or center and standing at 6'10" or taller logged more than 35 minutes per game last year—Howard, Anderson Varejao, LaMarcus Aldridge, Al Horford and Joakim Noah.

Big men have a tendency to play less, be it because the NBA is trending toward smaller lineups or because their legs are supporting more weight than others. Playing more doesn't make you elite, but it is how the select few distinguish themselves from the rest. And it's how Howard has separated himself from everyone. The man saw over 35 minutes every night during an injury-plagued campaign in 2012-13; he's always in the game.

That's how you make an impact—by being on the floor.

 

Become an Automatic Double-Double Threat

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Entering his fourth NBA season, Howard had notched a double-double in each of his previous three years. Although Favors' per-36 minute numbers suggest he could've too if given the opportunity, it's time for him to prove it.

Double-double monsters remain hard to come by. Last year, nine players posted at least 10 points and 10 rebounds per game. In 2011-12, just seven players did the same. Seven players also did it in 2010-11. 

To be sure, since Favors entered the league, a total of 23 season-long double-doubles consisting of rebounds and points have been averaged. And only 16 different players account for those 23 occurrences, all of whom aren't superstars (Kris Humphries), but 10 of whom have at least one All-Star appearance to their names. 

To achieve a similar status to Howard's, players have to put up gaudy stat lines. Flashy production totals are often considered overrated, but points scored and rebounds grabbed are the most immediate and accessible forms of evaluation we have.

During games, those box score-based numbers enable you tell how well Favors is playing. If he wants to receive due credit as a first-class big, he has to light those box scores up the same way Howard has for nearly a decade.

 

Pick-and-Roll Monopolies

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Pick-and-rolls may not tickle Howard's fancy the way a shot clock-draining post-up will, but he's good within them. Strike thathe's great within them.

Per Synergy Sports (subscription required), Howard scored 1.29 points per possession as the roll man last season, the ninth-best mark in the league. He also converted 79.6 percent of his shots in those situations, a ridiculous total when you consider he buried 57.8 percent of his field-goal attempts overall.

Favors didn't find similar success. His 0.85 points per possession ranked 119th in the NBA, and he connected on only 42.4 percent of his attempts as the roll man.

In some ways, we could chalk Favors' struggles up to a lack of playing time, like we could everything else. But can we really?

Pick-and-rolls accounted for 11.4 percent of Howard's total offensive touches last year; Favors was sitting a bit prettier at 11.8. Just look at the difference when the points scored per possession are extrapolated to show what they would look like per 100 possessions: 

Via infogr.am.

The amount of time each spent as a roll man is similarly proportionate to the number of offensive touches they received. Howard, at this stage of his career, is clearly more of a force when rolling to the basket. This type of detachment from the average player is what Favors must shoot for moving forward.

Developing and marketing that skill more than post-ups will have to be a focus as well. Like Howard, a majority of Favors' touches come where he's not most effective.

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Favors must emerge as the pick-and-roll threat Howard is.

Post-ups accounted for 28.5 percent of Favors' offensive possessions last season, more than double that of his roll man usage. But he averaged fewer points per possession (0.82) and shot a lower percentage from the floor (41.2) in those instances.

Howard battled the same issue. Almost half (48.5 percent) of his possessions came in the form of post-ups when he averaged a mere 0.74 points per possessions and shot a forgettable 44.5 percent from the field.

Improving effectiveness with his back to the basket while becoming a more frequent and dangerous pick-and-roll finisher holds the key to Favors' offensive potential. Failure to adjust to the shifting themes—less post-ups, more pick-and-rolls—will curb his ceiling considerably.

 

Profound Impact

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Individual numbers mean nothing if they don't have a positive impact on a player's team.

Favors' two blocks per-36 minutes are impressive, but does his defense make the Jazz's defense better? It does. Better than Howard's did at this point of his career.

Via infogr.am.

Howard's teams have been better by 1.4 points per 100 possessions with him in the game over the course of his career. Early on, though, he struggled to have as potent an impact. After three seasons, the Magic were, on average, 1.2 points better with him off the floor.

Through three years, Favors' units have allowed an average of 3.6 points fewer per 100 possessions when he's on the floor, giving him a 4.8-point edge over Howard when he approached Year 4. But our case isn't closed.

There are two sides to every court, and while we know Favors can leave his stamp on the defensive end, it's equally important he do the same on offense. So far, he hasn't. Not like he should, and most definitely not like Howard did.

Via infogr.am.

On the offensive side of the ball, Howard has the clear advantage. Entering Year 4, the Magic scored an average of 3.2 points more per 100 possessions when he was on the floor. Conversely, Favors' teams are 4.3 points better when he's on the bench.

The gap on offense makes all the difference, as you can see below:

Via infogr.am.

Combined plus/minus ultimately matters more than anything. Orlando closed out Howard's first three years outscoring opponents by two points per 100 possessions with him on the floor, and Howard's teams are a plus-5.9 with him in the game for his career.

What is Derrick Favors' ceiling?

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To this point, Favors' teams are actually being outscored by almost a point when he's playing, negating the effect he has on their defense and then some. In order to reach that next level, in order to become Howard's peer, he must become a reliable difference-maker on both ends. 

Three Defensive Player of the Year awards have left Howard lauded as a defender, but he wouldn't be where he is now without bringing that same influence to the offensive side.

For all his imperfections, he makes his teams better. Not just on defense or offense—both. Until Favors can say the same, until we see that the Jazz are better in more than one aspect of the game with him it, joining Howard and the rest of the Association's world-class big men will seem like a pipe dream.

 

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