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So Much Depends Upon ... Derrick Favors

This is the second of a series of posts I am doing analyzing our "real" team for next season. As has been pointed out by many (most frequently in my Twitter timeline, Peter Novak), for the Jazz to be a non-lotto team it will require a major breakout to superstardom by one or two guys. So I'm looking at what kind of things we should look and hope for from our main players ( i.e. not Biedrins).

Derrick Favors is very good at doing this
Derrick Favors is very good at doing this

The Millsap Doctrine (you're going to hear about that a lot, since nobody has played 35+ min/game on the Jazz starting lineup) says this is what we can expect from Derrick Favors next year:

15 ppg — 11 rebounds — 1-2 assists — 2-3 blocks — 1-2 steals

Do you know who else has put up those stats over the past 5 years?

Dwight Howard. That's the entire list.

If you go back 10 years, you get Dwight Howard, Kevin Garnett, and Elton Brand. And just five total seasons between them all. Look at the list yourself.

I've looked at this over and over and over. In some ways, it highlights that Derrick Favors is really good at what he does. It highlights that his combination of scoring ability and total defense is rare. People don't just go around putting up those numbers all over the place.

However ...

It's hard to ignore that the guys on the list score WAY more than Favors' MD stats (Millsap Doctrine) project. Nor that four of the five put up rebounding numbers significantly ahead of Favors' MD stats*

* Here's the significance of 12 vs. 11 rebounds. If you search for all players who have grabbed 11 rebounds a year in the past ten years, you get 51 results. Change the rebounds to 12 and you get 22. Change it to 12.5, and you get thirteen.

And so this list of Derrick Favors' comparables actually makes everything even more baffling. His combination of skills is obviously rare. But how valuable? It's almost like looking at Jeff Hornacek's 1992 stats (20 ppg, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals) and saying: "He's basically in the ballpark of Michael Jordan. Only a rebound, an assist, a half-a-steal, and 10 points off." Well, that turns out to be a significant difference. At the same time, only two other guys in the 90's ever put up a season at Hornacek's threshold: Jordan and Pippen.

So Hornacek's not valuable as them, and yet nobody else is putting up that kind of season.

That's what I see when I look at Favors' projections and that list.

But this isn't just about seeing what he projects. It's about understanding where his strengths and weaknesses are. It's also about identifying what things have to change in order for him to leap into the superstar-level of play. So let's begin with the biggie ...

Let's talk about Derrick Favors' scoring

First of all, his FG% has gone down every single year. That's not awesome. However, his FT shooting has improved a lot, and he gets to the line well ... so his True Shooting has remained pretty much the same. Looking at his specific shots, we can see where his problems are:

At rim: 288 shots — 67% FG — 60% assisted

3-9 feet: 149 shots — 28% FG — 57% assisted

10-15 feet: 63 shots — 37% FG — 78% assisted

16-23 feet: 62 shots — 26% FG — 56% assisted

He's outstanding at the rim, and awful everywhere else. His shot distribution is good, almost identical to Kanter's. But man ... Derrick Favors hasn't had any sort of scoring touch away from the rim whatsoever.

That 10-15 feet percentage does stand out a bit, though. It's 10% better than his 2nd year percentage from that range. Considering his improved FT shooting, there's reason to hope that it's the beginning of a good trend. In fact, I'm feeling generous and I'll chalk it up right now as something to reasonably expect: his midrange shot to approach league average next year.

To improve more, Favors needs to do two basic things: 1) forget about the long 2's completely, and 2) find out how to make a shot from 5 feet away. It's that simple. If he can do those two things, he'll go from a decent scorer to a good one, and that will make a huge impact on the Jazz.

There are two reasons to be cautiously optimistic: First, Favors was put into Al Jefferson's spot in the offense last year. That was a great fit for Kanter, but not Favors. With the huge changes this off-season, there's a chance his spot in the offense changes ... that the team runs more P&R's with Burke, Hayward, and Burks ... that Favors operates less with his back to the basket ... etc. But still, Favors has to hit the five-footer. He just has to.

Favors is also working out with Karl Malone. And despite some early naysayers, reports are that Karl's doing a heck of a job. And this encourages me, because when Karl was talking in a TV studio last year about Favors and Kanter, Karl emphasized how important a little 5-foot jumper would be for them, how much it would open up at the rim, etc. Karl Malone understands exactly what Favors needs to work on. So this is good.

So how much can we expect Favors to improve here? Given the workouts with Malone? Given a new game plan from Corbin?

I have no idea. I really don't. Some guys develop a nice scoring touch out of nothing. Karl Malone was one of these guys. But other guys just never get it—Ben Wallace is the best (worst?) example. I don't know which kind Derrick Favors will be. I'd suggest that right now that nobody else does either. The one bit of hope we can cling to is his improvement at the free throw line. He's close to 70%, and guys with a bad scoring touch don't get to that percentage.

But this is the big thing to look for this year: can he start hitting a baby hook, a little turnaround J, or quick little 6-foot hopper with any kind of reliability? That will change everything, I believe.

Fouls and Turnovers

Derrick Favors committed 5 fouls per 36 minutes last year. That is not good. While it's better than his rookie foul rate, it's a major setback from his 2nd year foul rate. He just has to cut them out. More than anything else, excessive fouls threaten to limit what Favors can do to help the team.

Turnovers are also a bit of a problem (though not as much as Kanter). Favors was giving up 2.6 per 36 minutes last year. I did a search for forward and centers who turned it over that much, and you get: Rudy Gay, Josh Smith, DeMarcus Cousins, Nic Batum, Greg Monroe, Paul Pierce, Joakim Noah, Dwight Howard, Paul George, David Lee, Melo, Durant, and LeBron.

The more I look at the list, the more I feel like turnovers aren't really a huge issue for Favors at this point. It would be terrific if he could cut them down (particularly offensive fouls, since fouling in general IS a huge issue), but sometimes the turnovers just come with the territory. They are not going to be what makes or breaks his rise to becoming a superstar.

The Rest of Him

One thing that I have been thrilled to see about Favors is how much he has improved his rebounding. When he came to the Jazz he rebounded at a decent rate (9.5 per 36 minutes). That has since changed to "very good" (the 11 per game rate we've seen the past two years). And it's defensive rebounding that has improved while his offensive rebounding has stayed in the top-20.

His passing has also improved. And it's not just the numbers (up to 1.5 assists per 36 minutes last year), but the eye test says he's pulling off tougher, more significant passes ... like my favorite little lob to the other big man from the top of the key.

But in the end, Favors' real importance is his defense. I hope he can become a bit more effective as a scorer (and I believe he will), but his real value is giving us the strongest defensive presence in the paint since ... well at least Ostertag and possibly Eaton.

But the real test for Favors is whether he can make that leap from a good defensive player to one who leads the entire team to a strong defensive mindset ... to a player who directs the defense of the team. It's what Dennis Lindsey has mentioned sets apart Tim Duncan. It's what Ben Wallace was able to do for the Championship Pistons. It's what Kevin Garnett was able to do to the Celtics.

Favors has the right kind of guys to work with: Kanter, Hayward, Burks, Marv, and even Rush have all shown an ability to defend. Can Favors lead them like the best defenders do? That remains to be seen.

The Summar, Full of Bullets

Here's what to look for from Favors, if he is going to make the leap to superstardom:

  • Maintaining that full stat sheet of points, rebounds, steals, and blocks
  • Improvement on the 5-foot shots: the baby hooks, the turnaround J's, the scoops, the quick 5-foot hopper.
  • A significant drop in his personal fouls
  • The defensive effectiveness of the entire team.
It's going to be a blast to see what he can pull off and who he will become.