Winning two of three early on an 82-game schedule is usually not worthy of a quick asterisk notation, but I think any potential improvement in the New Orleans Pelicans season could soon be traced back to this point in time.
Yes, let’s keep fingers crossed that Jrue Holiday has snapped out of a nasty offensive funk to start the 2019-20 campaign following his exquisite 36-point, six-steal performance against the Los Angeles Clippers, but there's another player who has caught my eye for looking like a difference maker out on the court for New Orleans over the past week.
Derrick Favors is starting to look like the player that David Griffin thought he was trading for back in July, the guy that Alvin Gentry penciled in to soak up a lot of important minutes at center before the start of training camp.
Derrick Favors and Jrue Holiday gave us a glimpse of what they can do on both ends last night.— Preston Ellis (@PrestonEllis) November 15, 2019
In the PnR, Favors and Holiday are clicking. Favors knows when to roll and when to kick. See Kenrich in the corner? We've already seen Favors make that pass several times this season. pic.twitter.com/Vk9R6loltM
Over the last three games, Favors is averaging 14.3 points, 14.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.0 blocks. He’s shot 64.5% from the field over this span and he even nailed a three-pointer from the corner in the team’s latest victory.
Favors has been bouncy, vibrant and making winning plays on both ends of the floor. Beyond the solid individual production, on/off stats suddenly depict him as the most indispensable cog in Gentry’s rotations.
In his last 93 minutes on the court, the Pelicans have scored 30 more points than opponents. When he’s sat during the remaining 109 minutes conversely, the team’s been outscored by 26 points. New Orleans has been 36.8 points per 100 possessions better with him than without and the visual evidence doesn’t disagree.
Favors’ recent stretch of play has been a most welcome sight because he’s resembled the guy that helped the Utah Jazz reach the postseason for three straight years and helped quiet real fears of him being restricted by injury for most of this season.
Prior to the first exhibition game, the Pelicans announced Favors was dealing with hamstring soreness. He missed the team’s open scrimmage dedicated to the region’s fans, but even after returning to action in coming days, he didn’t pass the eye-test. His typical mobility and lift were simply not present and this remained the theme throughout the preseason. It wasn’t until the second game of the regular season that we started to see signs of improved bodily movement.
In the first half against the Dallas Mavericks, Favors scored 10 points on 5-7 shooting from the field. He got off to a quick start in the third quarter, scoring another six points on three shots, but soon thereafter left the game for good. I distinctly remember seeing him grimace several times in that contest, once after an odd landing on a rebound and also at half court after legs got tangled up.
Less than 24 hours later and in a matchup against the Houston Rockets, Favors completely didn’t look right physically again. He then went on to miss the next three games for New Orleans. Following a return to action, Favors identified that Mavericks game as to where his knee “just kind of blew up on me a little bit” to media following a practice on November 7 but was feeling a lot better... And here we sit, now fresh off witnessing three straight double-doubles from the big man.
The Pelicans defensive and rebounding woes have been well documented to start the season and much can be traced back to missing the dynamic starting frontcourt combination of Zion Williamson and Derrick Favors. However, change is on the horizon.
Although Zion isn’t expected to return until sometime next month, I think we’ve gotten a great glimpse that the real D-Fave is back to balling like he can and what that means to the Pelicans. This league isn’t a mystery. Most teams need their best players healthy and contributing to win more games than they lose.
If New Orleans can continue to depend upon their starting center and soon see Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, JJ Redick and others disappear from future injury reports, we may go on to remember the middle of November as an important turning point and determinative of the team’s fortunes for the rest of the season.