When Rudy Gobert was ejected three minutes into Thursday’s nationally televised game against the Houston Rockets, things looked fairly bleak for the Utah Jazz.
But, as he has been over the course of his nearly eight years with the team, Derrick Favors was ready, willing and able to do what was asked of him at a moment’s notice.
Filling the Rudy role for the rest of the game, Favors went for 24 points on 10-of-13 shooting, 10 rebounds, one block and one steal in just 26 minutes. He was plus-22 in a 27-point drubbing of the team that eliminated the Jazz from the postseason seven months ago.
Derrick Favors' 24 PTS, 10 REB off the bench propel the @utahjazz over HOU at home! #TeamIsEverything pic.twitter.com/bDMIUj2NzM— NBA (@NBA) December 7, 2018
After the game, Favors spoke to TNT’s Rosalyn Gold-Onwude about having to answer the call when Gobert went out:
"We just play hard. We play hard as a team."— NBA (@NBA) December 7, 2018
Derrick Favors speaks with @ROSGO21 after his 24-point, 10 rebound performance and @utahjazz win! (via @NBAonTNT) pic.twitter.com/wFNf6F83Gh
Over the years, there has been a lot of talk about Favors’ fit next to Gobert (some from yours truly), but Thursday was a good reminder of just how good the former is as an individual basketball player.
What we saw in that game (and plenty others) was a starting-caliber center. And the advanced numbers reflect that.
Favors currently sits at 23rd in the NBA in Box Plus-Minus (13th among centers) and 23rd in Win Shares per 48 Minutes (15th among centers).
He’s posting career bests in Box Plus-Minus (4.2), Offensive Box Plus-Minus (1.7), Win Shares per 48 Minutes (.199), True Shooting Percentage (.641) and Offensive Rebounding Percentage (14.8).
Here are his averages for basic numbers, per 75 team possessions: 17.2 points, 11.2 rebounds (4.7 offensive rebounds), 2.1 blocks, 1.4 assists and 1.3 steals.
And it’s those offensive rebounds that might be most intriguing going forward.
When Favors is on the floor this season, Utah is collecting nearly 30 percent of available offensive rebounds. The league average right now is 23.1 percent.
Combine those second-chance points with steadier contributions from Dante Exum and Royce O’Neale, who both played better on Thursday, as well as some spacing from Kyle Korver, and you could start to see a path to good offense from Utah’s second unit.
And that’s where Favors can prove his worth on this particular Jazz team. At the moment, the Favors/Gobert pair is struggling (-3.3 points per 100 possessions, 32nd percentile), and it’s even worse when Favors is on the floor without Gobert (-7.7 points per 100 possessions, 17th percentile).
But Thursday was solid evidence that a Favors-led lineup can work. Again, he was plus-22. And yes, the Rockets are a mess right now, but plenty of Favors’ minutes came against Clint Capela, who is not one of Houston’s problems.
If the results from that game start a trend, and a second unit led by Favors becomes a strength, it’s easier to imagine him playing out his contract with the Jazz. A selfless, starting-caliber center who’s willing to play whatever role is thrown his way is quite a luxury for a team to have.
And if he does outlast all the trade rumors (again), he’ll be just behind Paul Millsap in franchise history in Win Shares. The only players with more at that point would be Karl Malone, John Stockton, Adrian Dantley, Andrei Kirilenko, Jeff Hornacek, Rudy Gobert (base on an estimate of his current pace) and Millsap.
That’s some rarified Utah air. And if Favors is still with the Jazz through 2019-20, he’d start closing in on Hornacek as well.
For a team with as many playoff berths and as much history as Utah, climbing that high up the Win Shares leaderboard is quite an accomplishment.
And he’s done it in a way that reflects how he plays: with plenty of effort and humility.