As fans we often have a tendency to value our own players over those of similar ilk on other teams. Case in point, a question in this roundtable spawned a lengthy Twitter discussion when I asked both Utah Jazz and Sacramento Kings fans if they would do a trade where the centerpieces were Derrick Favors and DeMarcus Cousins. Every single Jazz fan said they would rather have Favors, while every single Kings fan responded that they would rather have Cousins.
The Jazz have assembled a squad with still-green youngsters, with more than one-third of the roster aged 25 or under. Recently, the brilliant David Thorpe and Kevin Pelton ranked the top 25 players in the NBA under age 25. Go ahead, take a guess how many Jazz players made the grade. Exactly none.
We all have high hopes for Derrick Favors, and many have extreme expectations for him as well. One local blogger even went so far as to proclaim that Favors is “already the best two-way big man in Utah Jazz history.” I’ve seen Favors’ potential compared by Jazz fans to not only the likes of Karl Malone, but also Dwight Howard and Kevin Garnett. These claims have little basis in reality, with the overwhelming sentiment being one that cannot be disputed, that being that “we won’t know unless we play him 36 minutes a night.” It’s an argument that not only is unrealistic, but borders on delusional, and can’t be won as it’s based entirely on deliberate speculation and conjecture sprinkled with the fairy dust of faith and hope that come with being a true fanatic. It’s essentially an unwinnable argument.
Just because a guy is taken high in the NBA lottery doesn’t automatically make him a franchise’s future and mean he should be on the floor more than a fan would wish them to be. The end game here is the assumption that these types of players are the ones that lead teams to titles, but only if they start early and often in their careers. Indeed, far more lottery picks never win titles than do, regardless of playing time garnered.
In Thorpe and Pelton’s piece there were four other big men taken in the same draft as Derrick Favors, and Favors was taken before all of them at 3rd in the 2010 NBA draft. The Detroit Pistons’ Greg Monroe was taken 7th, and comes in as the 14th-best player under 25. Next on the list is the Sacramento Kings’ DeMarcus Cousins, drafted 5th and chiming in at 19th on Thorpe and Pelton’s list. After him we find Milwaukee Bucks’ defensive phenom Larry Sanders, drafted 15th in 2010, and ringing in at 22nd. Finally, we find the Toronto Raptors’ Ed Davis, drafted with the 13th pick, and landing as the 24th-best NBA player under 25.
Cousins probably has the most complete all-around natural skill set of this bunch, but is also by far the most volatile which will likely always hold him back. He’s also started since virtually day one for Sacramento and has accrued the second-most minutes of this group. Monroe has played the most minutes, along with Cousins, both over 5,500 for their young NBA careers, and has a nice natural two-way skill set as well as could end up a staple among the league’s leading rebounders one day. Davis has played over 4,100 career NBA minutes to Favors’ over 3,700 thus far, while Larry Sanders has played by far the least, at only 2,526 at the time of this writing.
And Sanders might just be the best of this crop of 2010 NBA draft big men, ultimately, the most impactful to his team. In the least amount of minutes, Sanders has made the biggest difference of any of this group. Until he was inserted into the Bucks’ starting lineup he was playing the same amount of minutes per game as Favors.
Advanced statistics prodigy Andy B. Larsen recently compared Favors to reigning Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler, but it’s far more likely that Sanders lands a DPoY than it is that Favors does. Sanders has only recently been inserted into the starting lineup for the Bucks, and only plays a shade over 25 minutes per game, and yet, in those 25 minutes, he’s managed to become the NBA’s leader in blocked shots per game, a feat he pulls off more than three times a game on average. And Sanders’ offensive game is already more refined than Favors or Davis to boot.
Who is Derrick Favors?
As rookies, both on bad Eastern Conference teams, Davis and Favors were essentially the same statistical player, according to BasketballReference, despite Favors starting ten more games and posting a higher usage rate.
Three years later, Favors is still Ed Davis, albeit it on a far better team, a place that could be considered far more conducive to a better long-term development than that of a perennial dog in the East, especially with the support base he has among his teammates, coaches, and front office, not to mention fans.
Thus far, if we’re honest with ourselves, Derrick Favors has given us no reason to believe that he will be a Karl Malone, a Dwight Howard, or a Kevin Garnett. He’s not even the best big man from his own draft, playing time notwithstanding. There’s a reason that simply handing over floor minutes doesn’t automatically equal positive development, a fact the Jazz front office is well aware of.
Who could Derrick Favors become?
Could Derrick become a Tyson Chandler? It’s certainly possible. And he has a work ethic to match; Chandler worked hard — and I mean really hard — in becoming the NBA’s field goals percentage leader and defensive stalwart he is today. And it didn’t happen overnight. Chandler didn’t really bloom until his sixth NBA season after more than 10,000 NBA minutes, and was left for dead three years later on the side of I-77 after his stint with the Charlotte Bobcats before reviving his career with the Dallas Mavericks, going on to win his defensive award with the New York Knicks.
Marshal Mangus offers up both a worst and best-case scenario for Favors. First, best-case offering being Alonzo Mourning. Since Zo played all four years of college ball at Georgetown, and Favors came out after only one year at Georgia Tech, a more fair comparison here is Mourning’s rookie season versus Favors’ third year, aside from the fact that it makes Favors look a little better next to the legendary Zo.
While Favors compares favorably, no pun intended, in some of the Per 36 and Advanced statistical categories, we see that Derrick has a long, long way to go if he is to ever match up to Mourning’s natural offensive abilities. Next.
Stromile Swift was a 2nd overall pick in the 2000 NBA draft, and had a fair amount of expectation immediately attached to him. His numbers are near-dead ringers to Favors through three seasons.
“Swift played for 4 different teams during his 11 year career in the NBA, finishing with career averages of 8.4 ppg and 4.6 rpg. Stromile Swift is just yet another case of a guy who couldn’t figure out how to harness his pure, raw, athleticism into becoming a productive and consistent NBA player.”
While Swift ended up playing one year in China before never being heard from again.
Broadcast assistant for the Utah Jazz and it’s flagship station 1280 The Zone, Austin Christensen, may have found our man, most realistically speaking, provided Favors picks up his game a little more. But — fair warning — you’re not gonna like it.
Never an All-Star, and with a career Hall of Fame probability of exactly 0.000, Tree Rollins did manage to lead the NBA in blocks one season, and was an important defensive piece of the 15 playoff teams he played for in his 18 seasons in the league. Rollins started sporadically throughout his career, but always made the biggest impact coming off of the bench.
Before you take up the pitchforks and torches and march on my modest Xeriscape, understand that we all have the highest of hopes for Favors. However, the expectations may have gotten a little out of hand with some of the previous comparisons carelessly thrown about. Those generational impact Hall of Fame players don’t just pop up out of the ranks every day, despite how a given team may have felt on given draft day. Just because a player is picked high up in the lottery doesn’t mean it’s in said player’s best interest to throw him to the proverbial wolves.
Derrick Favors is one of these players, with a game and personality best nurtured carefully by caring hands, so that he might one day reach the pinnacle of his potential, and may hap beyond if we’re lucky. Maybe we should all take a momentary step back and trust that the competent professionals may actually understand what they’re doing here a wee bit more than we couch GMs and coaches would like to think.
Favors’ shot will come, once his high foul rate, especially on offense, and turnover rates come back to ones that are more conducive to leaving him on the floor for extended minutes at a time. But for now, he’s still ripening on the vine in the Jazz’s garden, waiting to be plucked when the time is right.