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Derrick Favors is better than you think and New Orleans Pelicans present fantastic opportunity for him to shine again

D-Faves is an All-Star center without the All-Star hardware...yet?!

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Utah Jazz Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Whether Derrick Favors admits it some day or not, his career needed a fresh start.

Favors averaged a pedestrian 9.5 points and 6.1 rebounds per game three years ago. Of course, he was only appearing in 23.7 minutes a contest, but that was by design. Quin Snyder had asked his young big man to sacrifice his production and minutes for the good of the team and the efforts did contribute to three consecutive playoff trips for the Utah Jazz.

Playing alongside Rudy Gobert for large stretches was no longer tenable since the modern game demanded offenses space the floor as wide as possible and not crowd the rim. Two bigs bereft of perimeter skills and savvy spending time together on the court became an archaic combination overnight. Good thing for the Jazz, Derrick wholeheartedly agreed to the reduced role because winning was his priority.

Last year was a little different for me personally. I had to sacrifice a lot. I had to sacrifice touches. I had to sacrifice shots, minutes, everything really. But I knew it was best for the team. I had to find a way to just make an impact. It was worth the sacrifice.

We won a lot of games, made it to the second round of the playoffs.

Here’s the real kicker though: Favors volunteered to take a back seat in his age-25 season — right when most careers knock on the door of greatest achievement. The former number three pick overall of the 2010 NBA Draft was going to be playing for a new contract in another year’s time, and he was coming off the best campaign of his career to date: 16.4 points, 8.1 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 1.5 blocks.

Did you know that only 15 other players have equaled or bettered that statistical line since the 2000-01 season??

More impressively, it’s a list loaded with multiple-time All-Stars, MVPs, championship winners, and most telling, all 15 players were named to at least one All-NBA or NBA All-Defensive team. Unfortunate circumstance — the Stifle Tower — cut short Favors trajectory to join this illustrious group. Averages of 23.2, 28.0 and 23.7 minutes per game from the last three seasons firmly relegated him to stand in Gobert’s shadow, and thus curtailed additional glory, money and anything else that goes along with being a potential star.

Utah Jazz v Denver Nuggets Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Favors was forced to operate most often as the backup center with the Jazz because the guy ahead of him was one of the best in the business. In case you haven’t been paying attention, Gobert has been named to the last three All-Defensive First teams and has walked away the winner of the last two Defensive Player of the Year Awards.

Following a trade on the opening day of the 2019 free agency period, that hierarchy no longer exists. Moreover, we should expect Alvin Gentry to take full advantage of his newest veteran big man.

Favors is presumed the heavy favorite to find himself in the starting lineup next to Lonzo Ball, Jrue Holiday, Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson. With Jahlil Okafor the only other legitimate big body possessing vast NBA experience at the five, Favors should see in the range of 30-32 minutes most nights. While Gentry will likely experiment often with small-ball lineups, I don’t expect him to sacrifice rim protection in most cases. Plus, Favors is really good; he does a lot of positive things that contribute to wins.

Outside of Okafor (54.1%) and Cheick Diallo (58.5%), no other Pelican held their assignments to under a 60% field goal percentage at the rim last season. Meanwhile, all Favors did was lead the league among regulars in limiting his opponents to a 50.1 FG% at the rim. Yep, he was stingier than Gobert as well as Hassan Whiteside, Serge Ibaka and Joel Embiid.

Although the video clip below is from two years ago (when Favors held opponents to a paltry 53.1 FG% at the rim), it remains pertinent because it displays the athleticism and dexterity Favors offers against even elite drivers of the ball like Giannis Antetokounmpo.

On the other end of the floor, Favors can finish with the best of them. Inside the restricted circle, he converted 72.2% of his shot attempts, good for 9th among players who attempted at least three shots within that area per game.

And if Favors doesn’t receive the ball via a pass to wreck havoc near the rim, he can chase after it like few can once a teammate misses. His 12.9 offensive rebounding percentage trailed only 12 other players who tallied more than 1000 minutes of action last season.

Standing 6’10, weighing 265 pounds, enjoying a 7’4 wingspan, and being able to jump about three feet into the air, Favors was always destined to dominate the paint on both ends. However, according to Stephen Shea’s Perimeter Defense Rating, Favors is also a fine perimeter defender, ranking as one of the best among other big men.

Evidence of this ability can be observed in opponent attempts and efficiency from the perimeter. Per 36 minutes, Favors ranked fifth among centers, contesting an average of 4.7 three-point attempts per game (which led the Jazz), and when he was on the floor, Utah held opponents to 32.7% shooting on three-point shot attempts above the break. Conversely, Gobert averaged 2.5 three-point shot contests per 36 minutes of action (2nd worst on the Jazz) and when he was on the floor, Utah surrendered three-point makes from all areas that didn’t include the corners at a 36.8 3PT%. Against spot-up shooters, Favors ranked in the 90th percentile, holding opponents to .80 points per possession, while Gobert sat in the 68th, giving up .95 PPP.

Going the extra mile, doing all of the little things that help a team win, Favors relishes in taking that responsibility.

“I take pride in it” has to be sweet sounding music to David Griffin’s ear. So should the premise for “My mindset doesn’t change. I have a job to do. I block out all the outside noise, and make sure there is no drop off when I come into the game.” — what Favors stated after being demoted to the bench in a regular season game last November.

Since taking the job in New Orleans, Griffin has hammered it into all of our heads: not only does he seek great basketball talent, he also requires all incoming players to possess the highest degree of character. Favors is brimming with so many quality human being parts inside that gigantic body of his that it’s easy to picture him seamlessly fitting with Jrue, Zion and the rest of the gang in the locker room.

The deeper I dig into the moves made by this front office, the more impressed I walk away and Derrick Favors is certainly no exception to the rule. If you look past the lack of an outside shot, he is the total package, so much so that I’m willing to wager big money on the idea that Favors is going to surprise the majority of fans by being far better than recent memory suggests — perhaps as soon as the first few regular season games come next October on the New Orleans Pelicans much anticipated schedule.