Derrick Favors's Ceiling in Numbers: A Look at Similar Players in Recent History

The Utah Jazz have a great deal at stake when it comes to the development of Derrick Favors. While every member of the C4 shows exciting potential and each has a contingent of Jazz fans who foresee greater things than even standard expectations from their favorite prospect, there is near accord on who is cream of the crop. Derrick Favors is The Man of our future. The team’s hopes of a return to championship contention rest on his broad shoulders.

But what if the future isn’t everything we hope it is? What if Derrick Favors won’t ever live up to the prodigious potential that so excites us now?

On a recent Clark and Andy Show, the hosts offered uncommonly reasonable projections for each of the C4. Derrick Favors drew comparison from both Clark and Andy to Tyson Chandler (with Andy arguing for a little bit of offense from Amare Stoudemire thrown in). That’s exactly the characterization I’ve used when describing a future Derrick Favors at the height of his game, a Chandler/Stoudemire hybrid.

That isn’t exactly the second coming of Dwight Howard that many have been predicting, but it certainly isn’t bad. (And given Howard’s performance this year, it may even be preferable.) But is there a way to do some sort of quantifiable projection to add to what the eye test tells us all? I think there is.

Favors is a third year pro who has played roughly 20 to 22 minutes a game since he entered the league at age 19. A number of other young bigs in the last decade or so also entered the league very young and with loads of potential. Some, like Kwame Brown, have shown themselves to be busts. I think we can all degree Derrick Favors has already alleviated fears of such disappointment. If he were to play only at his current level 36 minutes a game, he would contribute 15 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks. That isn’t bad at all. (It’s actually much better than max player Roy Hibbert.)

But we want Favors to be better than he is now—hopefully, much better, particularly offensively. I think we’d all accept eight or ten years of the 10 plus rebounds and 2 ½ blocks a game he’s producing now (projected to starter’s minutes). But 15 points doesn’t a #1 option make. To become what we hope he will be, Favors is going to have to mature a great deal offensively.

But in their podcast, Clark and Andy asked how reasonable that expectation really is. What if the Derrick Favors we see now is, more or less, who he will always be? Maybe we can answer how likely that is by looking at some of his predecessors, other young bigs who at 21 had proven more than busts on the path to… sometimes stardom, sometimes flashes of greatness and then disappearance.

In trying to get a handle on how Favors might progress numerically, I focused on seven players, all of whom had several years of experience in the league by the time they turned 21: Chris Bosh, Andrew Bynum, Tyson Chandler, Eddy Curry, Kevin Garnett, Dwight Howard, and Jermaine O’Neal. I considered adding Amare Stoudemire but decided against it as I knew his numbers two years in experienced a jump influenced by the brilliance of Steve Nash. No, better to look at players who had to mature their offenses largely on their own.

Most of the numbers I looked at are offensive in nature, though I also included rebounding and statistics that try to examine overall value, specifically Player Efficiency Rating (PER) and Win Shares Per 48 Minutes (WS/48). Assuming Derrick Favors’s career will be similar to this population of players, which I think is a reasonable expectation, then the average improvement made by these comparables from the age of 21 to their best seasons should give a rough estimate of what Favors might show at his best as well.

Here are the stats:

at 21 0.450 0.713 12.2 4.4 6.2 10.5 1.2 18.1 0.514 0.450 0.125 22.2
Career Best ??? ??? ??? ??? ??? ??? ??? ??? ??? ??? ??? ???
at 21
0.505 0.816 14.2 2.7 5.8 8.5 2.4 23.2 0.585 0.505 0.170 39.3
Career Best
.549 (28) .844 (23) 16.5 (25) 2.9 (25) 7.9 (25) 10.8 (25) 2.5 (23) 25 (25) .617 (28) .558 (28) .200 (23) *
at 21 0.560 0.707 12.5 3.4 6.5 9.9 1.8 20 0.598 0.560 0.184 28.9
Career Best .574 (23) .739 (22) 13.6 (24) 4.1 (23) 8.8 (24) 12.2 (23) * 22.9 (24) .608 (22) .574 (23) .210 (23) 35.2 (24)
at 21 0.424 0.669 7.3 3.8 8.7 12.4 1.1 14.2 0.507 0.424 0.116 22.3
Career Best .686 (30) .732 (28) 7.8 (25) 4.8 (30) * 12.9 (24) 1.4 (23) 21.8 (30) .708 (30) .686 (30) .250 (30) 35.2 (25)
at 21 0.496 0.671 14 2.4 5.1 7.5 1.1 14.8 0.538 0.497 0.066 29.5
Career Best .576 (24) .720 (22) 14.5 (22) 2.8 (23) 5.5 (23) 8.3 (23) * 17 .604 (23) .576 (24) .115 (22) 35.2 (24)
at 21 0.491 0.738 14.4 2.5 6.3 8.8 3.9 20.4 0.527 0.492 0.143 39.3
Career Best .539 (31) .862 (34) 18.2 (22) 3.4 (22) 10 (27) 12.8 (28) 5.4 (28) 29.4 (27) .589 (29) .539 (31) .272 (27) 40.5 (26)
at 21 0.603 0.586 10.4 3.4 8.6 12 1.9 21.1 0.619 0.603 0.154 36.9
Career Best .612 (24) .596 (25) 12.8 (25) 4.3 (23) 10.3 (22) 13.9 (23) * 26 (25) .630 (24) .612 (24) .236 (25) 38.3 (26)
at 21 0.486 0.582 9.3 4.1 5.5 9.6 0.8 13.3 0.515 0.486 0.117 12.3
Career Best .529 (31) .810 (30) 20.1 (26) * 7.6 (25) 10.8 (22) 2.8 (29) 22.9 (26) .563 (31) .529 (31) .177 (24) 37.6 (23)
Ave. Improvement 0.071% 0.076% 3.06 0.59 1.76 1.86 0.56 5.43 0.061 0.072 0.072 7.5

Favors Projected 0.521 0.789 15.3 5 8 12.4 1.8 23.53 0.575 0.522 0.197 29.7


To start, a few hopeful observations.

These players did improve upon their production as 21 year olds. Some improved a great deal (Jermaine O’Neal and Tyson Chandler) and some improved only marginally (Chris Bosh and Andrew Bynum). But all got better, which suggests we have not seen the best of Derrick Favors’ offense yet.

Even more encouraging is that the players who improved the most were those playing the fewest minutes when they were the age Favors is now, 21. Apparently, the players who played more earlier in their careers did a great percentage of their overall development in that time. It front loaded their development. (None of us arguing for more time on the court for the C4 are surprised by this.)

The bright side of the data suggests that, if anything, Favors has more of his growth left ahead than the statistical averages here. Note that the average increase in minutes from players at 21 to players’ most minutes played in a season is only 7.5 minutes. Such an increase in Favors’s time this year (a career high at 22.2 minutes) would only put him at 29.7 minutes—less than 30 minutes a game.

We all know Favors will play more than this pretty much for the rest of his career. This serves as evidence that Favors is behind the development curve of this population of players. He hasn’t played as much or in as significant a role as the average player here, and should increase in his development when given that opportunity either next season or with the trade of Jefferson or Millsap.

The next two or three years as he progresses should be something to watch. I find that very encouraging indeed.

These projections are for Favors’s career high marks in each category, so season after season he would typically produce somewhat less than what is listed. For some stats, such as rebounding and free throw percentage, that isn’t a problem at all. If Favors put up around 11 rebounds and 75% from the free throw line, I think we’d all be happy, and both are less than the projected highs shown here. A better than 20 PER yearly is strong as well, and that is a very reasonable expectation given the numbers.

The shooting percentages are another matter. They suggest Favors’s offense may develop more like Jermaine O’Neal, Kevin Garnett, and Chris Bosh than others. But those similarities just don't jive. These are players who have always depended substantially on their jump shot, a weapon each possessed to a more refined degree at 21 than does Favors. Honestly, he’d probably be taking more close in shots than these guys and just missing more than expected. If he did end his career with career highs of .521 FG%, .575 TS%, and .522 eFG%, his averages would likely be much lower—maybe subtract .05 from each. Such a player would, more often than not, leave something to be desired as a first option, even though he would be a valuable offensive weapon.

But I find reason to be optimistic here as well. These relatively inefficient shooting projections stem from a basis in Favors’s shooting this year, which is—for an inside player—very mediocre at 45%. But his career number of .496, essentially 50%, is much better. I suspect that career percentage is a more accurate representation of who he is as a player.

Early this year I recall Tyrone Corbin talking about how much Favors had worked on both his offensive moves and his body, particularly gaining strength. The coach said he fully expected Favors to struggle offensively for the first several months of the season as he learned how to use his new power to his advantage without depending on it too much. In watching the games, I think I’ve seen just that: Favors experimenting with his jump shot and with what he can and cannot do through sheer power. (Kanter is doing some similar things.)

Once Favors gets a sense of himself and how he can most efficiently score, I expect his shooting percentage to rise back to around that 50% mark fairly quickly. It’s an educated guess, of course, based both on his past and what I see now, but I’m confident in it. His improved free throw percentage only reinforces my optimism. If he can keep up or even improve what looks to be a steady shooting stroke, he’ll be the kind of multi-threat that gets easy open shots as well as chances to attack the rim with players out of position, as defenders won’t easily be able to key on one method of his scoring.

Assuming Favors’s career shooting numbers are a more accurate basis from which to chart his improvement than this year's (yes, it is an assumption, but I think a fairly safe one), his projected career high marks become as follows: 57% FG, 79% FT, 15.3 Shots, 5 ORB, 8 DRB, 12.4 TRB, 1.8 AST, 23.53 PER, 60% TS, 57% eFG and .197 WS/48.

The most similar of the comparable players is probably Andrew Bynum. The shooting numbers are almost identical, though this projects Favors as a slightly better free throw shooter. The rebounding numbers are extremely similar, as is the PER. The projection shows Favors shooting slightly more than Bynum as well as shading more to the offensive glass where Bynum favors the defensive slightly. But overall, the similarities are consistent and clear. (Also, Win Shares and PER can be significantly affected by the quality of a player's team. If Favors ever led a really good Jazz squad, I think these numbers would rise.)

The stats show Bynum essentially reached his fully matured game at 23 or 24 (and given his injury problems, it’s unlikely he will ever surpass these levels). That’s two to three more seasons for Favors; plus, Bynum played more minutes than Favors both at 20 and 21, which might prolong Favors’s development into a fourth year.

The history of these players suggests Favors will continue to develop, as they all did to differing degrees at varied paces. If he grows as these averages suggest, then three or four years from now we might have someone offensively comparable, at least statistically, to Andrew Bynum from last year. I think we’d all take that, especially as Favors shows all the signs of being defensively superior to Bynum.

In the end, this is supposition. The numbers here are no more certain than the evaluation of our eyes. But taken together, I find them very encouraging. When I watch Derrick Favors play, I see the makings of a solid #1 scorer, especially if he’s on a team with talent around him and a ball handler who can get him the ball in positions where he can be successful. Examining other players who were once in similar positions suggests the same.

I don’t think we’ve seen the whole story that is Derrick Favors; in some ways, not even close. Rather than say what player he will be like at his peak, I will say that he will be uniquely himself, and that will be very, very good: a true two-way franchise player. That’s how I think the story will end.

All comments are the opinion of the commenter and not necessarily that of SLC Dunk or SB Nation.

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