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.