BREAKDOWN – Search to prove Derrick Favors defensive impact

My eyes are telling me that Derrick Favors is becoming a game impacting defensive player. Coaches and people I trust are talking about the same thing. But, how do we equate it?
Defense in the NBA has become the nearly indefinable. The fear is that once you make the conclusion that something is happen, in this case Favors impacting the game defensively, you only notice moments that reconfirm your belief.
Talking to people around the game, they all say he is the best pick and roll defender of the Jazz bigs. They mention that he protects the rim. He is rotating instinctually rather than thinking and therefore covering more ground. His athleticism allows him to recover from mistakes better than most bigs in the NBA.

Those are the items we can see. However, what do the numbers tell us about Favors defensively? This is where analytics really struggles because the 9 other players have such huge impact.

Our first stop is 82games.com. According to 82games.com when Favors is on the floor the Jazz allow 105.6 pts per 48 minutes and when he is on the bench they allow 108.4 pts. The defense allows the opponent 48.6% EFG% and when he is on the bench it is 49.6% More data shows we block more shots, the Jazz offensive rebound dramatically better (35% to 30%) and defensive rebound better (72.7% to 69.4%).

However, these can be very misleading because Favors is usually playing against the second unit. Moreover, he plays with Kanter the majority of the time therefore it makes sense the rebounding is better.

Moving to basketballvalue.net to confirm these findings we find much of the same. When Favors is on the floor we allow 103.47 pts per 100 possessions and when he is off the floor the Jazz allow 107.8 pts per 100 possessions, other than Watson and Kanter the best on the roster.

Basketballvalue.com does great work to look playing groups. When Favors plays with Watson, CJ, Howard and Kanter (122 mins this year, the most of any 5 Favors has played with) the group has a defensive rating of 95.67. However, when you take Howard out and insert Alec Burks the rating skyrockets to 104.05. When you replace CJ with Burks it is even worst at 105.56. How this is possible is beyond my logic.

The Jazz best defensive line-up is Harris, Hayward, Howard, Jefferson and Favors with a defensive rating of 78.31 in the nearly 30 minutes they have played together.

The last and final stop in trying to prove the unprovable is mysyenrgysports.com. This is where it all falls apart. However, the flaw here is that this only counts when the possession ends in the hand of the player Favors is guarding. It doesn’t count if he denies the post or if he comes from the weakside to block the shot.

With that said we see some signs of his defensive prowess. On defending isolation allowing just 6 of 17 shooting and .86 pts per possession. On post ups opponents are shooting just 7 of 21 33% and score .77 pts per possession. He struggles with the spot up, which means the stretch 4’s who make him defend the outside shot. He was annihilated by Matt Bonner and that is skewing some of his numbers.

However, when you compare him to the other bigs it is not that imprssive. In contrast Paul Millsap allows opponents to shot 42.6% on post ups but he forces turnovers 21% of the time so his ppp is the same as Favors at .77. Millsap is better on isolations allowing just 9 of 27 shooting and .54 pts per possession. These numbers would lead you to believe Millsap is the better defender.

The story is similar with Jefferson, Favors is better on isolations, but they are the same on post-ups and spot up shooting is an issue for both.

At the end of the day the numbers tell us very little. My eyes however tell me that Favors is becoming a major defensive player. What do we trust?