The Utah Jazz have a problem disguised as a blessing.
When they acquired Derrick Favors from the New Jersey Nets, it seemed luxurious to think about him backing up starters Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson, to have him ride the pine for spurts of action like Avery Johnson’s method on the east coast.
Though that seems to be Utah’s short-term plan, it won’t suffice when [if] the 2011-12 season comes along and Favors begins his sophomore campaign.
Who knows if the thought at all crossed GM Kevin O’Connor’s mind when he pulled the trigger that sent two-time All-Star Deron Williams packing for Newark?
But if it didn’t, it will be by season’s end.
Eventually, the Jazz will have to pick between their starting bigs; Millsap or Jefferson will be out of Utah.
Statistically, it would seem like idiocy to break up the two. Jefferson is the fourth highest-scoring center in the NBA and climbing the ladder fast; Paul Millsap is third among all power forwards. Together, they combine for 35.6 ppg, the second-best scoring tandem at their positions, behind only Nowitzki and Chandler in Dallas.
Obviously, Favors isn’t nearly as good as Jefferson, whom the Jazz traded for last summer, or as good as the homegrown Millsap, whom Utah drafted back in the second round of 2006.
But when you look at the natural skill set that 6’10” Favors has, it’s almost a no-brainer to develop him as quickly as possible. He’s a gifted athlete, the type of 4-5 hybrid that comes along only a few times per decade.
A quick glance at his frame and a few names come to mind: Shawn Kemp. Chris Webber. Dwight Howard.
It doesn’t make any sense to try to progress Favors from the bench with a measly 15-20 minutes per night and backing up two solidified, refined NBA players.
The biggest upside that Favors brings is the opposite of most rookies. Most young NBA players are offensively minded and inconsistent individuals who can’t guard anybody.
Favors is the youngest player in the NBA and a defensive player by design. He defends the pick-and-roll as if it were innately born in him to do so. His man-to-man defense is already better than most professional basketball players.
He’s a more mobile, agile and versatile version of Andrew Bynum; he instinctively perseveres the goal. Whatever offensive output he gives is simply a bonus at this point.
The developmental process has to come sooner rather than later.
It’s not like Utah can ask Millsap to return to the bench for a 19-year-old. He sat behind Carlos Boozer for years waiting for his opportunity to be a starter, and his 16.9 ppg and 7.8 rpg (both career highs) haven’t disappointed. Plus, he’s shooting 53 percent from the field.
Jefferson is one of the NBA’s most skilled big men. His footwork is rivaled by only a few (Tim Duncan, Pau Gasol). And he’s finally coming around to Utah’s system. Since February, he’s averaging 25 points and 12 rebounds per game compared to 17 points and nine rebounds for the first three months of the year.
It took Big Al 32 games to collect his first 30-point outing in a Jazz uniform. He has eight total on the year and seven have come in the last 13 games.
The truth is that both Jefferson and Millsap are starters and deservedly so. But breaking the two of them up is inevitable and in the best interest of the Jazz in the long run.
They don’t complement each other’s games.
Naturally, they are both power forwards and Millsap is undersized to begin with. For all their offensive firepower, they struggle to secure rebounds. Utah grabs the fourth-least amount of rebounds per game—probably because teams are shooting lights-out against the Jazz defense.
Millsap cannot guard the basket when Jefferson has been cemented by the pick-and-roll. Favors can.
Jefferson cannot guard the pick-and-roll. Favors can.
It may seem like a quick and rudimentary selection but NBA history says to go big or go home. For all of the intangible assets that Millsap brings to the table, he is limited by his height.
A front line of Jefferson and Favors is imposing, an indulging edifice that very few teams ever have the luxury of. If there is cliché saying with any substance, it’s the age-old Pat Riley ring that says rebounds and defense win championships.
Favors does these things by default; his accidentals are basketball essentials.
Utah fans will likely kick and scream if Millsap is the next Jazzman to be the next ex-Jazzman.
But the foundations of Utah basketball have been sequentially chipped away—Carlos Boozer, Wesley Matthews, Kyle Korver, Deron Williams and Jerry Sloan.
Change is upon them from all fronts—the changes they asked for and the changes they didn’t.
It’s time to embrace both.