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.

Knicks reportedly very interested in Anunoby, if Raptors make him available

Toronto Raptors v Golden State Warriors
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The Toronto Raptors are the one team that could move this trade deadline from a dud to shaking up the playoff race. There are 29 other GMs waiting to see what Massai Ujiri will do, and when they called, they’ve been told “the franchise will make a decision about being a buyer or seller – or standing pat – near deadline day,” reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

If Toronto does decide to trade a player beyond the expected Gary Trent Jr., then the Knicks want to be at the front of the line for defensive wing O.G. Anunoby, Charania reports.

The Knicks and Suns are among the interested suitors in Raptors forward O.G. Anunoby, sources say. New York has shown a willingness to offer multiple first-round picks for Anunoby, according to those sources. The Suns, meanwhile, have control of all of their first-round picks — eight in total —through 2030. SNY first reported the Knicks’ interest last week.

There would be a lot of teams in line for Anunoby, but he is a very Thibodeau-style player — an All-Defensive Team level wing stopper who can finish and is averaging 16.9 points per game — so you can see where the interest comes from. Anunoby also is just 25 and is locked in next season at $18.6 million. While the demand for wings in general is lower this trade season — point guards and centers are more in demand — a lot of teams could use a player the quality of Anunoby. Including the Knicks.

Getting him won’t be cheap — two unprotected first-round picks (or lightly protected) with matching salary would be the price range.

All of that is moot if the Raptors don’t make him available, which is what everyone is waiting to see.

Report: Bucks have been given permission to talk to Jae Crowder

NBA 2022 Playoffs - Phoenix Suns v Dallas Mavericks
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Jae Crowder may be the most likely player to be traded at the deadline. The Suns need a shake-up (and to get Devin Booker back), and they are sitting on a $10.2 million player that is not helping them on the court and has yet to bring back any trade value they want.

We may have movement on that front, based on reports from Shams Charania of The Athletic.

In a new development, the Suns have given permission to the Bucks to meet with Crowder and they met over the weekend, league sources tell The Athletic. The Bucks are believed to be the only team that has received permission to visit one-on-one with Crowder, those sources have also indicated…

Both the Suns and Bucks have engaged in serious trade talks for months, with current proposals surrounding Jordan Nwora, George Hill, Serge Ibaka and second-round draft compensation to Phoenix for Crowder, according to sources. The Bucks and Suns have searched for a third team to provide Phoenix with a forward – so what outcome will emerge between now and next Thursday?

Those talks between the Bucks and Crowder likely focused on his role on the team this season (backup four) and possibly re-signing him after this season (he will be a free agent).

Crowder has sat out the season after asking for a trade but is still a Sun because Phoenix head of basketball operations James Jones had a very specific ask in the trade — a forward with a similar skill set to Crowder. It’s tough to trade like-for-like in the league, so nothing has happened. It’s also why that offer from the Bucks doesn’t seem the fit the Suns want. Nwora is a forward but a fringe rotation player, Hill can help with some backup point guard minutes, but nothing really moves the needle for Phoenix. The problem is the Suns have waited so long to get a trade done that Crowder’s value has gone down — by the time he is traded, works his way back into game shape, then steps on the court for his new team he’ll be lucky to play 30 games in the regular season. Teams aren’t going to give up as much for a rental.

The report states the Heat also are interested, which is not a shock they want a P.J. Tucker-like player at the four and Crowder fits the bill, but putting together a trade that works for both sides is difficult (unless the Suns suddenly fell in love with Duncan Robinson, which would be a bigger trade). The Hawks come up, but there is a growing sense around the league that the new Landry Fields-led front office is less inclined to trade John Collins, and they may ride with him at the four.

It’s likely Crowder gets traded somewhere at the deadline and the Bucks maybe make the most sense, but this deal could have been done long ago if the sides wanted to.

Free agent Candace Parker announces she will sign with champion Aces

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The WNBA champion Las Vegas Aces are about to get better.

Two-time MVP and two-time WNBA champion Candace Parker announced she plans to sign with the Aces when free agency opens on Feb. 1

The WNBA champions just got better — a starting frontcourt of Parker and reigning MVP A’ja Wilson (with Kelsey Plum in the backcourt) could make Las Vegas the best defensive team in the league. While Parker may not be the scorer she once was, she can serve as a fulcrum for the offense, get the ball to the other players on the deeply talented Aces, and make them a serious threat to repeat.

Still, a cloud hangs over the Aces organization after what Dearica Hamby alleged after she was traded to the Sparks. Hamby said she was “lied to, bullied, manipulated, and discriminated against” by the Aces front office surrounding her pregnancy and contract. Those are serious allegations, and the WNBPA is looking into the matter.

On the court (if the investigation results don’t weigh them down), the Aces have to be title favorites now. However, when WNBA free agency comes on Wednesday that could shift, depending on what Breanna Stewart chooses to do (along with other key free agents). There has been speculation Stewart could head to New York to team up with Jonquel Jones, Betnijah Laney and Sabrina Ionescu on a Liberty team that would instantly be the biggest threat to the Aces (if not the outright favorite).

Stay tuned, it’s going to be an interesting WNBA free agency.

Three things to Know: Giannis Antetokounmpo puts up 50 spot in 30 minutes

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Three Things To Know is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks that make the NBA must-watch.

1) Giannis Antetokounmpo puts up 50 spot in 30 minutes

Before the ball was even tossed up at center circle Sunday, this looked to be a long night for the Pelicans: No Zion Williamson (strained right hamstring), no Brandon Ingram (toe injury) and no CJ McCollum (sprained right thumb).

Then Giannis Antetokounmpo went to work early, scored 18 points in the first quarter, 29 in the first half, and went on to have an efficient 50 on 20-of-26 shooting on the night, including hitting 3-of-4 from 3.

The All-Star Game captain is having a “down” season by his insane standards, but he is still averaging 31.3 points and 12 rebounds a game, shooting 64.5% in a season where he has had to take on more offense load because of Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday missing time. He’s still one of the best in the game, and if healthy the Bucks are still a postseason threat (even if they could use some depth at the four).

This was eight straight losses for the Pelicans, who are 3-11 in January and have fallen all the way to the No. 8 seed in the West. New Orleans has looked like a dangerous team on the rise when healthy this season, but the injuries have caught up with them and now they are scrapping to stay in the play-in in a crowded middle of the West.

2) Hornets get 31 from Rozier, upset sleepy Heat team

It will be hard for Miami to hold onto the No. 6 seed in the East (and avoid the play-in) if they don’t win the games they are supposed to win.

Miami looked sleepy for the 1 p.m. start in Charlotte, didn’t play good defense down the stretch, and fell to the Hornets. Charlotte got 31 from Terry Rozier, 27 from P.J. Washington, LaMelo Ball scored 13 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter, and Gordon Hayward was 7-of-7 shooting for 20 points. Charlotte snapped Miami’s three-game win streak with the 122-117 victory.

To be fair to the Heat, sometimes it’s about when you catch teams and the Hornets are playing their best basketball of the season having won 4-of-6. Jimmy Butler scored 28 points for Heat, Tyler Herro added 24.

This was the start of a four-game road trip for the Heat and things are about to get tougher with games at the Cavaliers, at the Knicks (a key game in the chase for the No. 6 seed) and at the Bucks.

3) LeBron James, Anthony Davis out in Brooklyn Monday night

The epidemic — and league-wide PR problem — of stars sitting out will continue Monday night as LeBron James and Anthony Davis will rest as the Lakers face the Nets (officially, LeBron has a sore left ankle and they are watching the foot injury that sidelined Davis for 20 games). This is the team’s one trip to Brooklyn this season. It comes a day after Kawhi Leonard and Paul George sat out in Cleveland (the Cavs blew the Clippers out as a result), and the list goes on and on all season long with Stephen Curry, Jimmy Butler and other stars seemingly resting more than ever before.

There is no easy answer here. Coaches and team medical staffs tasked with ensuring their players peak for the playoffs are resting guys during the season (and on back-to-backs) to avoid injuries and fatigue. Top players have their personal trainers monitoring them and weighing in on these decisions. The NBA schedule is still too long — but reducing that number is a financial mess — and there is nothing in the upcoming CBA that will change this trend.

But fans are noticing. Keep showing them the regular season doesn’t matter and they will respond in kind.

In LeBron’s case — and he hasn’t missed much time this season — this pushes back the timeline for him to pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time NBA scoring record to Feb. 7 against the Thunder or Feb. 9 against the Bucks, both games in Los Angeles at the crypto.com Arena. If you want to think that’s a coincidence, go ahead, but I’m a little more cynical than that.