In July of 2019, the Utah Jazz added Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic to their already very good team. Expectations were high, optimism abounded, and fans couldn’t wait for the season to start.
That season has now come and gone, and... well, how better to describe it than as a roller coaster ride? Mike Conley struggled for much of the season, the bench showed a shocking lack of depth, and star players’ effort waxed and waned. One thing became very clear; this Utah Jazz team had some legitimate issues.
Skip forward to today, and the Jazz have essentially retained the same core team, with one exception, the addition of former Jazz-man and fan favorite, big man Derrick Favors. What effect will this addition have on the team?
Over the course of a year, the Jazz front office essentially traded defense for offense, replacing Ricky Rubio, Derrick Favors, and Jae Crowder with Mike Conley, Jordan Clarkson, and Bojan Bogdanovic.
Led by Rudy Gobert, the Jazz boasted arguably the league’s best defense from 2016-2019. In the 2019-20 season however, the Jazz were no longer the defensive powerhouse they used to be. After three seasons in a row among the top three teams in defensive rating, Utah fell to 13th. This drop-off came along with a rise in offensive production. The Jazz were just 14th overall in offensive rating in 2018-19. They increased that dramatically in 2019-20. After the trade for Jordan Clarkson, the Jazz ascended to 3rd overall.
These changes made for a drastic swing. Utah went from a team who couldn’t beat Houston because they couldn’t shoot, to a team who couldn’t beat Denver because they couldn’t defend. Essentially, the Jazz overcorrected.
Derrick Favors is a big step towards resurrecting the Jazz stingy defense of years past. As the starting center for the young New Orleans Pelicans last year, Favors was instrumental to their defense. When Favors was on the court, the Pelicans were 5.4 points per 100 possessions better defensively. That difference was in the 86th percentile in the league.
Opponents avoid challenging Favors at the rim. Teams took 6.6% fewer shots at the rim when Favors on the court vs. when he was off, 97th percentile difference in the league.
Derrick eats the defensive glass. He grabbed an incredible 24.3% of all opponent’s missed shots when he was on the court, 89th percentile in the NBA.
Favs is exactly what you need to anchor a defense. Lucky for the Jazz, that means they have two elite rim protectors. The moment Derrick Favors steps back onto the court for the Jazz, the team will be better on defense.
The Utah Jazz’ bench was bad. Really really bad. All season long, Quin Snyder tried to find different substitution patterns that could mitigate the damage that the bench players would do. After the trade that acquired Jordan Clarkson, the bench significantly improved, but there was always a feeling that it wasn’t secure. Sure enough, after an injury to Bojan Bogdanovic, the team was once again down a rotation player. In the playoffs, Coach Snyder had to rely on young and unproven players like Juwan Morgan, Tony Bradley, and Emmanuel Mudiay in big moments.
Enter Derrick Favors.
Derrick is a player who makes his team better. He defends the paint. He rebounds. He scores with high level efficiency. He doesn’t turn the ball over. He doesn’t foul.
When healthy, the Jazz will now have 8 starter level players. That is a luxury that the team desperately needed last year. The new second unit will likely include Jordan Clarkson, Derrick Favors, and Joe Ingles. That’s right, that means we can once again look forward to the famous Ingles to Favors pick and rolls that used to eat second units for breakfast. Quin may also continue to stagger minutes with some of the starters like he did with Mike Conley during the end of last season, giving the Jazz a truly dangerous bench.
After Derrick Favors agreed to a new deal with Utah, Joe Ingles texted him, "Pocket pass. We back."— Ryan Miller (@millerjryan) November 25, 2020
Having Favors lead the second unit will greatly benefit the other bench players. Georges Niang, for example, was often the subject of Jazz fans displeasure last season during the struggles of the Jazz bench. Niang is a role player who shoots the three at an elite level, but if he’s depended on to do too much, the team will struggle. Now he’ll be able to fit into a role in which he can play to his strengths, and Favors can help cover his weaknesses. Adding a player of Derrick’s caliber helps everybody on the Jazz bench slide into their correct roles.
The Perfect Piece
Derrick Favors is just what the doctor ordered. The Jazz needed more defense. They got it. They needed more depth. They got it. They needed a solution for the minutes in which Rudy Gobert was not on the court. They got that too.
After the team swerved hard from defense to offense, we’ve seen that a balance needs to be found. Derrick Favors can help the Jazz find that balance. When the Jazz lost to the Nuggets in the first round, they were stuck playing one way. They just had to try to outscore the Nuggets, because they knew they couldn’t guard them. The two years prior, when Utah lost to the Rockets, they were stuck playing the opposite way. They had to try to stop the Rockets offense, because they knew they wouldn’t be able to score enough to win a shootout. Although they were two very different Jazz teams, they were the same in the fact that they just had to dig in their heels and keep stubbornly playing the same way, with glaring weaknesses.
Now, the Jazz now have the best of both worlds. They have shooters. They were the best three point shooting team in the league last season. They also have defenders. They’ll now have 48 minutes of elite rim protection. Derrick can play center with the bench, or he can play power forward alongside Rudy Gobert, only this time, surrounded by shooters. Quin Snyder can alter the lineups to match up with big teams or small teams, slow teams or fast teams, scoring teams or defending teams. This is a versatility that the Jazz haven’t had in a long time.
Does this move elevate the Jazz to true contender status? That remains to be seen. Often, the recipe for a title contending team is to be among the top 10 on both ends of the court. The Jazz have not been able to achieve both of those at the same time yet. Hopefully, Derrick Favors can help them do that now.
Derrick Favors tried to end Ersan Ilyasova with this dunk... pic.twitter.com/ugTaGguqS0— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) March 3, 2019