The maturation of Derrick Favors

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The book on Derrick Favors was out — he could score pretty well from the left block, but what he really wanted to do was face up and drive past his defender (he has a quick first step), then when he got to the rim he could finish (he shot 60 percent inside eight feet last season). To defend him push him out so he got the ball more in the midrange, say at the free throw line area, then back off. Dare him to take that shot — he hit just 36.5 percent from the free throw line area last season. Just keep him away from the rim.

Nothing had changed much for a couple of seasons with Favors and his development seemed to stagnate last season — the No. 3 pick of the 2010 draft plateaued a little in his fourth season. Everything regarding the development of the Jazz seemed to stagnate last season.

This season everything feels different in Utah. Quin Snyder was hired as head coach specifically because of his player development skills, and because his offense would have more motion in it. He would put Utah’s young athletes in better positions to succeed (and he has).

However, that is not why Favors has made a leap this young season — he is scoring 15.6 points a game on 56.2 percent shooting and pulling down 8 rebounds a night with an All-Star level PER of 23.2.

Favors is the reason. He matured. He put in the time off the court this past summer to improve his weaknesses and now it shows.

“I spent a lot of time this off-season working on my jump shot and my whole offensive game,” Favors told ProBasketballTalk. “When Quin got hired we talked, he told me how he was going to use me in the offense, the things he wanted me to work on, the things to keep improving on and so far it seems to be paying off.”

Favors didn’t return home to Atlanta last summer, he stayed in Utah, working with assistant coaches and shooting specialists on his jumper — tweaking the balance, the form, the release. Then they got up reps. Lots and lots of reps with the new form.

“(We worked on) more a little bit of everything, it just happens I’m making more from the free throw line and the elbow areas than any other spot,” Favors said. “But I was working from the corner, the baseline, elbow, free throw line, just all around the perimeter.”

This season he’s shooting 44.1 percent from the free throw line and elbow areas, and if he’s straight on near the top of the key he can knock that down, too. He’s not Dirk Nowitzki from there, but you have to respect the shot and come out and defend him — and he can still put the ball on the floor and drive past guys from there and get to the rim (he’s shooting 65 percent inside eight feet this year). Favors seems more decisive making that move now, he has a comfort level away from the basket that was missing before.

“In the past if I got out there by the free throw line or the elbow area guys wouldn’t even come out there to challenge the shot they just sat back,” Favors said. “But now that I’ll hit the shot guys got to come out and respect that, and that gives you a chance to drive to the basket and make easy shots. It’s really opened my game up.”

And that’s opened up not only his offensive game but also what the Jazz can do on offense with attacking guards and wings like Trey Burke, Alec Burks and newly-minted max player Gordon Hayward (who is living up to that contract so far).

“Guys like Gordon and Alec and Trey, they are good pick-and-roll players, and when they slash to the basket or whatever, I sit there and pop,” Favors said. “It opened up the game for the whole team basically.”

It’s also what Snyder wants.

“It’s more motion, more motion and reads basically,” Favors said of the Jazz offense this season. “I mean there are pick and rolls but it’s more a motion offense…. It’s not easy (to defend) at all, it involves a lot of movement, a lot of passing. It’s not as easy to learn but it’s not as hard to do once you get the hang of it.”

Favors starts a lot of his possessions still on the left block, where if he gets the ball in deep position he can score over either shoulder. Teams still have to take away that deep position and when Favors runs the court and gets to his spot early it’s hard to do that. But now when he comes out to set a pick up high, or comes to a “horns” set, or floats to the elbow area he’s more of a threat — and not just to shoot.

“(Passing) is something they asked me to do more of, particularly on the pick-and-rolls,” Favors said. “Now that I’m hitting jumpers guys are starting to rotate early over to me after Trey or Gordon or whoever hit me with the pass, now I just swing the ball to the weak side and the weak-side player’s got a wide-open shot, or a wide open drive or whatever. But that’s something that the team wanted me to improve on was my passing.”

This season Favors is assisting on 9.5 percent of his teammates made baskets when he’s on the court, by far a career high.

Basically, Snyder and the Jazz asked Favors to fit in more the role of the modern big man, someone who can space the floor, get buckets at the basket and pass to keep the ball moving in the offense.

“I’m no Pau Gasol yet, I’m not on his level yet, but as far as swinging the ball to the weak side if I get covered I’m pretty good,” Favors said.

The Jazz need Favors — they have lost their last 12 games when he sits, dating back a couple of seasons. That includes some games this season when favors battled an ankle injury (one that he says is still a little sore). They also need to defend much better as a team — the Jazz are 28th in the NBA in points allowed per possession and opposing teams have an eFG% against Utah of 52.5 percent (fourth highest in the league). Utah’s defense this season has been better when Favors is on the bench then when he plays. Favors said that is the one end of the court that gets Snyder yelling — he is taking the defensive lapses personally. It’s what the coach really knows he has to change.

And the defense is improving at times — the Jazz beat the Grizzlies Monday night holding a very good Memphis team to four points per 100 below their season average.

That’s how it’s been with Utah this season, like a lot of growing teams. There are flashes of what could be but there are steps backwards as well. The difference is there are more steps forward this season in Utah and the team can sense it is working.

“The whole team does (feel they are a lot more dangerous),” Favors said. “A lot of guys came in with a lot more confidence than we had last year, and they looked at me and Gordon to be the leaders of the team and I think me and Gordon did a good job and guys just followed our lead. With these players it’s not going to be an easy win (against us), they’re going to have to fight for it or we’ll win.”

Among the things Snyder asked of Favors was to be a more vocal leader on this team — and that’s another place his summer in the gym in Utah paid off.

“I’m trying to help the younger guys, trying to be a little more vocal out there,” Favors said. “Just try to anchor the defense then on the offensive end try to be vocal and make sure guys are in the spots they are supposed to be in. I try to talk to guys when they are having a down game or an off game or whenever…

“Guys respect you more if you put in the work in the gym, and they see you out there going hard every night, at practice and in the game. Guys then respect you a little bit more and listen to what you’ve got to say.”

A lot of people are listening to Favors now — and watching him. He’s picking up a lot of followers at the arena and he noted on his twitter handle (@dfavors14).

His improved play has caught the eye of people (including around the Jazz) who are mentioning him as a potential All-Star. He’s playing close to that level, but in the crazy deep West making the cut on that roster is brutal. Just think of the other power forwards in the West — Blake Griffin, Nowitzki, Tim Duncan, LaMarcus Aldridge, Anthony Davis, and that’s just the top of the list.

Favors says he’s flattered to get this kind of attention, but he knows if he wants to be on that list he’s got more to do in the gym.

“I’m still working on my post-up game to the point I can be a guy you can throw it in to,” Favors said. “I’m still working on that…. I think that will take me to the next level when I become one of those post players where you can throw it in, you can run plays through him, run the offense through him, and just know you’ll get a bucket. I think it makes the game easier when you can just throw it in the post and know you got a guy who can make a play.”

If he makes leaps there too his All-Star turn will come, sooner rather than later.

Zion Williamson sitting out Pelicans-Wizards (rest)

Pelicans big Zion Williamson
David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images
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The Pelicans have been one of the NBA’s most disappointing teams in the bubble. New Orleans has gone 1-3 at Disney World and fallen to 13th in the Western Conference.

Still (barely) hanging in the race to make the play-in, the Pelicans must face the Wizards without Zion Williamson.

Pelicans:

The Pelicans are treating Williamson carefully – and they should. He’s their 20-year-old franchise player with major health concerns.

But New Orleans still has its highest ceiling now with Williamson on the floor. He’s an offensive force. His interior scoring and gravity create efficient looks for himself and teammates.

Williamson has been woeful defensively, and the Pelicans have bigs – Derrick Favors and Jaxson Hayes – to take Williamson’s minutes. New Orleans can go small, too.

The Pelicans should still beat Washington, even without Williamson. Ideally, this will have Williamson ready for a closing stretch against the Spurs, Kings and Magic without sacrificing today’s game.

Yet, this is really just proof New Orleans isn’t as ready to launch as it appears during Williamson’s most exciting moments. His availability remains murky. His team has run hot and cold. I wouldn’t assume a win over the Wizards – though it’s a game the Pelicans need to preserve their fading playoff hopes.

Rumor: Next NBA season could begin in March

Wizards guard Bradley Beal and 76ers center Joel Embiid
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The NBA could reportedly delay the start of next season – currently planned for Dec. 1 – if fan attendance becomes foreseeable.

How long would the league wait?

Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times:

one plan includes starting in March if the NBA feels they can get fans in the arena by then, as well as not lose personnel and viewership to the Summer Olympics.

I understand the temptation to delay. The coronavirus pandemic has made it more difficult for NBA teams to turn a profit.

But this plan would invite all sorts of complications:

  • What if there’s no vaccine, cure or comparable solution by March? Then, the league would have wasted months getting practically no revenue – rather than reduced revenue – without reaching a more favorable point. (However, maybe owners could also reduce costs with a lockout.)
  • Starting the season in March would radically alter the NBA’s calendar. Shifting back to an October – or even December – start date would mean even more upheaval, potentially for several years.
  • The Tokyo Olympics are scheduled for July and August 2021. The Olympics have been a powerful tool for the NBA and its players expanding their global reach.

These are unique and trying circumstances. Coronavirus is a massive and confounding variable. Everything should be on the table.

Do I predict next season will begin in March? No. But apparently the possibility is being considered, which is something.

Magic center Mo Bamba had coronavirus

Magic center Mo Bamba
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Mo Bamba has fallen behind Khem Birch as the Magic’s backup center (to Nikola Vucevic). At the NBA’ resumption at Disney World, Bamba has played in only two of Orlando’s four games, receiving just four and six minutes. Magic coach Steve Clifford cited the 22-year-old’s conditioning.

Bamba wants you to know the full story: He had coronavirus.

Josh Robbins of The Athletic:

Bamba received word of his positive test on June 11

The illness temporarily robbed him of his senses of smell and taste, made him unusually fatigued and caused muscle soreness.

“Part of me is reading the temperature of the room and just knowing that there are definitely going to be questions, and sometimes you’ve just got to address them with honesty,” Bamba said. “In this case, I think it’s best for them to have that context and have that understanding of what, exactly, is going on.

“I want people to know that I’m still working as hard as ever, if not even harder, and I’ll get through this.”

Bamba thought he had endured the worst by the time the Magic entered the NBA bubble on July 7. But the false positives required him to have an additional three-day in-room quarantine while his teammates practiced together on July 9, July 10 and July 11.

I appreciate Bamba being so forthcoming. It was easy for people to suspect he didn’t train properly during the hiatus. Though medical privacy should also be valued, transparency often alleviates the worst suspicions.

At least 54 NBA players have tested positive for coronavirus. Does that number already include Bamba? It’s unclear.

After going quiet during most of the shutdown, the league has announced the number of players who’ve tested positive since June 23. Maybe Bamba continued to test positive on June 23 or later. Or perhaps he’s an additional case from the quiet period. There definitely were some cases in that timeframe.

False positives are an issue – an unavoidable one. It’s unfair Bamba was stuck in his hotel room, not training, longer than necessary. But the NBA can’t risk allowing a potentially contagious player into the bubble. Better to err on the side of safety.

The No. 6 pick in the 2018 NBA draft, Bamba improved steadily from an underwhelming rookie season. He still needs more work to become a quality NBA player. This is a setback, and one that makes him unlikely to contribute much the rest of this season. Hopefully, he’ll be able to pick up next season where he left off when this season got suspended.

Three Things to Know: What’s next for 76ers without Ben Simmons?

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack — especially with games spread out every day in the bubble — so every weekday during the NBA restart we are here to help you break it all down. Here are three things you need to know from yesterday in the NBA.

1) What’s next for 76ers without Ben Simmons?

“This one stings, for sure.”

That was 76ers coach Brett Brown, who has had to deal with a lot of injuries to players during his tenure in Philadelphia. But this one hurts a little more because of the timing. The Sixers will be without Ben Simmons for a while after he suffered a subluxation of the left patella — his kneecap essentially dislocated then popped back into place — against Washington.

The 76ers were adjusting to playing Simmons at power forward during the restart in Orlando. Now there are just questions.

How long will Simmons be out? That’s the big one and the answer is nobody knows for sure. The Sixers are evaluating treatment options. As Jeff Stotts of In Street Clothes notes, Allen Crabbe had the same injury earlier this year and missed 11 days (three games), but he had no damage to the ligaments or rest of the knee. That’s the most common outcome for this injury and it would have Simmons back around the start of the playoffs. However, if there is any ligament damage, Simmons could be out much longer. (The early reports were the MRI came back clean, but that doesn’t tell us much about the real level of damage other than it wasn’t severe.) Philadelphia has always been cautious when it comes to bringing its stars back from injury.

Who starts for Philadelphia while Simmons is out? That’s one Brown has to decide by today (Friday) and the game against Orlando. He could plug Al Horford back into the starting lineup — the Sixers were +1.4 points per 100 possessions this season with Embiid and Horford on the court together without Simmons (it was -0.7 with all three and the floor spacing was a mess). Or, Brown could keep Horford on the bench and go with another wing such as Matisse Thybulle or Furkan Korkmaz.

Philadelphia seems locked into the six seed in the East (they are one game back of five seed Indiana with four to play, but the Pacers beat the Sixers last Friday and have the tiebreaker, so it is in practice a two-game lead).

Philadelphia is 6-5 this season without Simmons, and while they can plug other players into the four they will not have Simmons’ elite defense, nor his passing skills, and the new player will not be the same threat in transition. Philadelphia is just not the same threat in the East without Simmons.

2) Portland is in control of ninth seed in West after win, New Orleans loss

There is going to be a play-in series in the West — and Portland is going to be in it.

That much seems obvious after Thursday’s action, where Jusuf Nurkic was dunking on Bol Bol and Portland was picking up a 125-115 win over Denver.

That win has Portland half a game back of  Memphis for the eighth seed in the West — and the 0-4 Grizzlies face a tough game against the Thunder Friday. The West could be tied by Saturday morning.

Portland looks to be a lock for the play-in.

Can anyone else crash that party? Sacramento earned it’s first win in the bubble on Thursday, knocking off Zion Williamson and New Orleans, meaning now both the Kings and Pelicans sit 2.5 games back of the Grizzlies with four to play. Both need to win out and hope Memphis continues losing to have a chance to get into a play-in with Portland.

The undefeated-in-the-bubble Suns and the Spurs both sit two games back of the Grizzlies and with a chance to make a play-in. Just as with the Kings/Pels, the Suns and Spurs essentially need to win out and count on the Grizzlies continued stumbles to have a chance.

Memphis controls its own destiny. But without Jaren Jackson Jr., and with Ja Morant struggling from three, a sharp turnaround is needed.

3) Milwaukee wraps up No. 1 seed in East

This was expected, but the Bucks made it dramatic. Miami led this game by 23 points in the first half, but both Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton turned it on — both finished with 33 points each — and Milwaukee came back to get 130-116 win. With that, the Bucks officially wrapped up the No. 1 seed in the East.

While this is good for the Bucks — who now get an easy first-round playoff matchup against Brooklyn or Orlando — they know they will be judged on the playoffs. This is a Finals-or-bust team. And Milwaukee fans don’t want to think about the options for bust.

Milwaukee has eased into games in the NBA restart, not worrying about wins now and rather being healthy and firing on all cylinders when the games matter. They have that luxury with the lead they built up in the East, but they need to flip the switch eventually. As they did coming back on the Heat.