As much as we love to trumpet talent wins over all, optimization is important, vital even in some situations. The most expensive outfit for a child will make a man look like he belongs in a circus. With enough talent, it is possible to overcome issues of synergy and harmony. Due to an unfavorable situation, some players have their values deflated. It takes a savvy front office to spot the needle in the haystack and pick out these misfits. Fortunately, David Griffin and Trajan Langdon may be the savviest duo of them all. In free agency, they picked out one of the sharper needles in the bunch, Derrick Favors.
The Jazz trading Favors to New Orleans (allowing the Pels to retain Bird rights on the big man, by the way) was more proof of Griffin and Langdon’s eye for talent and manipulation of the market. For two years and $36.7 million, Derrick Favors’ contract is a bargain. For comparison, Terry Rozier, a noted below average basketball player, is making more money annually than Favors, who could reasonable impact the game at an All-Star level.
Favors’ goodness was hiding in plain sight over these past few seasons, but it was hiding, nonetheless. To Favors’ detriment, he played the same position as one of the league’s most dominant big men, Rudy Gobert. Because of Gobert, the Jazz slid Favors down to the four, where he is simply out of place. Derrick Favors is a center and a great one, he just happened to be teammates with a shot blocking deity.
Beaming his high character, Favors willingly took a back seat in his prime for the good of his team. Winning is at the zenith of Derrick Favors’ priority list and this is as crucial as all of the positives he brings on the court. Playing at his natural position, Favors will have the chance to impact winning more than he ever has before.
In his neutered role in Utah, Favors averaged a pedestrian 11.8 points, 7.4 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 1.4 blocks with a 62.4 true shooting percentage. Those numbers are solid, but don’t scream “All-Star impact” or anything close. This season, Derrick Favors played 58 percent of his minutes at center, still below the minutes he should be playing at the five, 100 percent. Favors played only 23.2 minutes a night last season, his lowest total since the 2012-13 season. Playing out of position so often negatively skewed many of his numbers; he’s better than his 1.5 Player Impact Plus Minus and +0.1 on-off difference suggest.
On the court, Favors often looked out of place. Stationing a career 21 percent three-point shooter in the corner wouldn’t frighten a toddler, let alone an NBA defense. Because Favors is a non-threat, Pascal Siakam can help off of the corner without worrying about Favors making him pay:
Despite Favors starting 70 games last season, almost all at power forward, he at the bulk of the backup center minutes for the Jazz. To anyone watching, it was blatant Favors was too gifted for his role and he consistently beat up on second units. His dominance is best exemplified by this: by net rating, two of the seven best five-man lineups last season were lineups with Favors on the floor without Rudy Gobert. Primarily on the defensive end, Favors dominated as an interior defender whenever he slid down to the five.
Advanced metrics love Favors’ defense: he placed 18th 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.
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; he bodies Pascal Siakam away from an easy finish here:
He excels as a low post defender, with the size, strength and length to bang with even the most dominant post presences. Harry Giles has no shot at moving Favors off of his spot here:
If there is one game I implore every Pelicans’ fan go back and watch, heck, any NBA fan, skeptical or not of Favors, it was his stupendous performance against the Houston Rockets on December 6, 2018. Early in the contest, Rudy Gobert exited due to an ejection, giving Favors free rein to patrol the paint. Playing his ideal position, Favors shut down the Houston Rockets with one of the most impressive defensive performances I have seen for a big against the flammable Rockets, let alone any team. James Harden and Chris Paul couldn’t solve Favors’ rim presence, wilting for 15 points on 31.2 percent shooting and 12 points on 45.5 percent shooting, along with three free throws each, respectively.
More than his physical blessings, Favors’ elite defensive IQ and feel for the game allowed him to stymie the NBA’s most feared attack. Not even James Harden’s vaunted isolation drives could phase Utah, as he couldn’t dislodge Favors at the hole. Harden struggled to shoot over his 7’4 arms:
Favors got his chest into Harden’s chest, making sure he couldn’t wield his voodoo arts on him to finesse easy shots. He bumps harden off balance and contests with length, buying Jae Crowder time to swoop in for the block:
Favors’ high IQ has made him a master at playing defense without fouling; he only fouls 2.1 times per game and only fouled twice in this game against Houston. Few players can avoid fouling two of the game’s best tricksters, but Favors has the rare blend of tools and IQ to defend successfully without bleeding free points. The body control necessary to jump past Chris Paul and remain vertical at Favors’ size is absurd:
Against James Harden’s infamous step back, he contests with length, carefully placing his jump as to not bang into the Beard’s flailing limbs:
Along with pure rim protection, Derrick Favors is an excellent pick and roll defender due to his size and brains. With surprising nimbleness for his size, a rapid processor and condor arms, Favors thrives in drop coverage, where he can defend two at once. He sticks with Chris Paul’s foray to the hoop before quickly flipping his hips and contesting Clint Capela’s layup into a miss:
On defense, his positioning is picture perfect; Favors knows where and when to be, which is just as important as his physical tools. Treading water, Favors has the length and positioning acuity to bother Harden and simultaneously be ready to spring backwards to cover the lob and he swats this pass away.
This time defending a dribble handoff, Favors again orients himself in-between Eric Gordon and Capela—check the fluid hip turn—and he pounces on Gordon for a block:
I raved about the importance of team defense in my breakdown of Nicolo Melli and all of my remarks there hold true. Favors is a stout team defender, with the feel to consistently make rotations and bring positive value as a help defender. Constantly scanning the floor, Favors is aware of the action taking place around him. Dropping in pick and roll, Favors spots Crowder closing out and he plugs the gap, sprinting to contest the Gordon three:
Harden dusts Royce O’Neale off of the dribble and Favors promptly peels off of his man to force a miss. Again, watch how Favors gets vertical to avoid fouling:
Sacramento sets up a side pick and roll, looking to attack space. When two defenders commit to Buddy Hield, Harry Giles rolls into empty court, but Favors rotates to clog the opening. This is textbook pick and roll coverage as a help defender from Favors:
With eyes in the back of his head, Favors is quick to recognize when attackers beat his teammates off the dribble. Because Favors is always rotating his head, he catches Norman Powell with an open baseline, steps in front and gets his offense the ball back:
Offensively, Derrick Favors gives his team everything they could need from a traditional center. An elite finisher around the rim, Favors’ strength and touch makes him a force down low. Favors placed in the 94th percentile around the rim (non-post ups) last season; among players with a minimum of 300 attempts at the rim, his field goal percentage, 66.8, ranked sixth in the NBA. No matter the defender, Favors finishes strong and with touch, with either hand, putting his efficiency in the upper echelon of rim regulars:
With solid touch, Favors can drop in push shots and runners when he doesn’t want to terrorize the rim:
An 88th percentile post scorer, Favors’ array of soft hooks, footwork and simply bullying defenders makes him a viable option down low:
As a roll man, Favors’ raw speed and power in the open floor leads to countless dunks. When he can’t explode off of the runway to a monster jam, he has the ability to finish through all sorts of contact, brushing off defenders in midair to convert layups:
Along with his high-level finishing, Favors is a competent passer. I suspect his passing numbers see a rise in New Orleans with more minutes and presumably more freedom to make plays. Favors is a great decision maker who flashes advanced vision for a center at times. Making this pass to the corner out of the short roll with consistency would unlock much more of his offensive game:
Here’s the other short roll read Favors would benefit greatly from mastering, the big to big layoff pass when the help defense gravitates to the diving man:
Under pressure, Favors rarely panics; he placed in the 84th percentile on post ups including passes. Surrounded by Laker defenders, he is patient, spins around and fires to the open corner:
Along with his penchant for making the right decision, Favors is also a snappy decision maker, his lightning quick defensive processor manifesting on the offensive end. When he catches the ball on the three-point line, Favors routinely makes extra passes to open shooters before the defense can react:
One more area Favors adds value is with his offensive rebounding; his 12.9 offensive rebounding percentage was the 12th best figure in the NBA last season. With length, strength and a high motor, Favors punks opponents on the glass, often following his own misses:
A put-back king, Favors tosses weaker defenders around like rag dolls on his way to easy points. When the Rockets tried to go small against Favors, he simply inundated them with pure strength:
With Jaxson Hayes not projected to play a major role on the Pelicans this season, Favors has a clear path to the lion-share of minutes at the five. His only real competition is Jahlil Okafor, who he should outplay when considering previous history. Finally unchained, Derrick Favors is in the perfect position to make the NBA collective, not just the keen-eyed, aware of his greatness. Expect a noticeable uptick in Favors’ counting stats (this will come naturally as a result of more playing time) and an increase in impact as well.
Playing with a talented lineup, Favors has the playmakers around him to shoot easy shots often. Paired with Zion Williamson in the front court, Favors and the future superstar rookie will dominate opponents. Few pairings can match the beating they will put on the rim and the stalwart defense they bring. Favors’ sturdy defense meshes well with Williamson’s almost lunatic-like help defense, flying around the court making plays. The only inhibitor to Favors’ success will be New Orleans’ spacing. If they are to play their best lineup, the Pelicans will have two to four poor floor spacers on the floor at once.
If you’re not familiar with Derrick Favors, get acquainted. If you aren’t expecting anything notable from the former number three overall pick, get ready. If you fully grasp what Derrick Favors can do on a basketball court, get excited. Derrick Favors has arrived and Derrick Favors is ready to explode like he never has before.