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2019-20 Player Preview: Derrick Favors should make immediate impact for New Orleans Pelicans, reasserting himself among league’s best at center

Among new additions like Zion, the Lakers trio, draft picks and sharpshooter JJ Redick, a veteran like Derrick Favors can get lost in the midst. Here’s why he might become New Orleans’ most critical player.

New Orleans Pelicans Media Day Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

He isn’t Zion Williamson or Jrue Holiday. He isn’t Lonzo Ball or Brandon Ingram. He doesn’t have his own podcast as Josh Hart and he hasn’t made the playoffs in 13 consecutive seasons like JJ Redick.

When analysts and fans alike analyze the sensational offseason executed by owner Gayle Benson and newly hired executive vice president David Griffin, the New Orleans Pelicans starting center often gets lost in the shuffle. But when it comes to immediate on the court contributions, there may not be a bigger day-one game-changer than Derrick Favors.

Untapped Offensive Potential

You’ve heard Griffin refer to his “untapped” offensive potential and his effect will be demonstrative.

Favors’ production dipped offensively in recent seasons due to a withered workload next to the two-time Defensive Player of the Year, Rudy Gobert, but during his 2014-15 and 2015-16 campaigns, Favors contributed 16 points and eight rebounds in just 30.8 and 32 minutes, respectively.

“He was asked to play out of position a lot in a league that’s gone smaller,” said Griffin during Favor’s introductory press conference. “He’s a special defensive player, an elite rim protector. Somebody who can do a lot of things to change the game. We think he can do a lot of the same things offensively. He and his agent Wallace Prather were excited to join the Pelicans’ family. They may not have been as excited as I was, but it was close.”

Favors has yet to extend his game to the perimeter, but he was sixth in the NBA within five feet or less at 71.7 percent. Put simply, he’s one of the best finishers around — 66.8 percent of his shots coming from within five feet, his 60 percent eFG percentage was top-25 in the NBA.

We cannot know if Favors can expand his game beyond five feet because he took only 203 shots from outside of that area all season long (2.7 shots per game). If Favors finds the confidence to both take and make shots in the mid-range and beyond, his potential may skyrocket, indeed.

Defensive Anchor

However, Favors’ greatest effect may come on the defensive end, where he finished first in FiveThirtyEight’s ‘Draymond’ calculus and fourth in ESPN’s Defensive Real Plus-Minus among power forwards. Favors finished 11th in defensive rating among players who suited up 40 times or more — his 101.6 DRtg exceeded DPOY’s Rudy Gobert’s 103.6.

Our own Ben Pfeifer wrote:

“Advanced metrics love Favors’ defense: he placed 18th overall in defensive real plus minus at +3.07, Synergy ranked him in the 93rd percentile for his overall defense and 538’s DRAYMOND projections had him as the league’s best defender last season. While some of these metrics, Synergy defense and DRAYMOND are fickle and quite flawed, they tell the correct story: Derrick Favors is a stellar defender.”

Pfeifer continued:

“Favors’ defense starts with his tools: at 6’10, 265 pounds with a 7’4 wingspan, Derrick Favors is imposing physically. A monster athlete, P3 Sports Science calls Favors one of the most athletic specimens they have worked with; they dubbed him as “structurally perfect,” according to Danny Chau. Posting a league best 50.1 percent defensive field goal percentage last season, Favors’ strength and length makes him a wall at the rim.”

The front office and coaching staff alike have strategically sought to place as little pressure on Zion Williamson as possible. We lamented about the physical low-post pounding Zion might endure as a rookie playing small-ball five with a lack of depth behind Jahlil Okafor and with the skill very raw, Jaxson Hayes. Favors mitigates that concern perfectly. His tremendous physicality, savvy veteran instinct and rim protection can both protect the rim and the young Zion.

Concerns will reveal themselves as two rim-crashing big men occupy the starting lineup, but there is little need for concern. Favors is effectively reversing roles with Gobert alongside Zion and that pair worked splendlidly in Utah.

Per Andy Bailey of Forbes Sports:

“In 2018-19, when those two shared the floor, the Jazz were plus-3.4 points per 100 possessions (73rd percentile), according to Cleaning the Glass. Their two-man net rating was in the 91st percentile in 2017-18 and the 95th percentile in 2016-17.”

Many of his minutes have come at the four in the past, but last year Favors took a step forward in his development as a center, finishing 5.5 points better per 100 possessions in 58 percent of his overall minutes — by far the best production of his career at the 5.

Defenses will be forced to react when they see one of the NBA’s largest and longest bodies in front of them, making shots at the rim harder to come by. And at 2.1 fouls per game (lowest of his career), he won’t afford them any second-chance opportunities should they miss.

Welcome Home

Favors saw the writing on the wall once the Jazz signed free agent Bojan Bogdanovic to a four-year deal and there was only one place he wanted to go.

“It means a lot to me,” said Favors. “I was playing behind perhaps the best defensive player in the league. I wasn’t able to do a lot of the things I could do. They called and said I had an untapped offensive skill sets and I was excited by that. I thought this was a great fit for me.”

The Pelicans and Griffin earned the goodwill of something pretty rare: a 28-year-old who may yet have another gear so far unrealized in his nine-year career.

Regardless of whether Favors makes the Pelicans a top-5 defense or becomes the playmaker Griffin predicts, the Pelicans got a leader and solid veteran at an incredible price and in a contract season. They also acquired his Bird Rights via trade with the Jazz, giving the Pelicans the option to bring back the big man in 2020-21.

The acquisition was a home run, even if an unheralded one. While Favors may garner the least attention of the group, he’s bound to make the biggest impact.

For more on Derrick Favors and his potential impact in New Orleans, check out our podcast featuring Andy Bailey, contributor to Forbes Sports and Bleacher Report.

Let’s geaux, Pels!

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