We’re standing at the edge of the NBA Draft, with so much possibility, the Dallas Mavericks poised to move in any number of directions. And just past that, in the distance, we can see the silhouette of free agency. Time and again it’s been reported that Mark Cuban, Donnie Nelson and the rest of the front office brass will be using the draft to determine their free agent strategies. That is to say, they won’t pass on a player on June 21st with the thought that they might have a chance at maybe signing a player at that position in July (something they would have considered in the past).
It’s a nice thought, and a sound strategy. But it doesn’t make this process any less complicated. Similar to this draft class, where the majority of the top level talent is a power forward or center, this summer’s free agency class has a handful of power forwards and centers at the top. Lucky for the Mavs, they have long term need for both. And someone they should be considering is Derrick Favors.
Favors is a 6’10, 265 pound big man that was taken number three overall in the 2010 draft, after playing one season at the Georgia Institute for Technology (what all you smarties call Georgia Tech). Selected by the then New Jersey Nets (for reference, DeMarcus Cousins was still on the board and was picked fifth), he was traded in the middle of his rookie season — along with Devin Harris — to Utah, in a move that shipped Deron Williams to the Nets. The connections to the Mavericks family tree feel endless.
In the seven seasons since, Favors has become the longest tenured Jazz, with career averages of 11.6 points, 7.2 rebounds, plus a career 18.6 PER. He’s tenth in Jazz history in career rebounds, seventh in blocks, and ninth in PER. Favors has seen a lot in Salt Lake.
The 2017-18 season saw him play 77 games, and put up 12 points, seven rebounds and one block, in 28 minutes per game. Entering his ninth season in the league, Favors will turn 27 this summer.
Playing in Utah over the last seven plus seasons, has meant playing a lineup style from another era. Long employing a traditional rotation featuring two big men, Favors has spent time playing behind/alongside the likes of Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Enes Kanter, and now Rudy Gobert. The Jazz simply haven’t surrendered to the modern era in that regard. In looking at Favors’ numbers, his strengths and weaknesses, that fact should be at the forefront.
Favors gives you the bread and butter of the big man game. Though there may be some flash lacking, Favors makes up for that with stability and reliability — he has appeared in at least 70 games in five out of his eight seasons.
Offensively, Favors is effective in a traditional role, operating mostly in the lane or on the block. Around 50 percent of his field goal attempts last season were taken within five feet of the basket, where he converted 72 percent of the time (good for 10th in the league among players that attempted at least 100 shots). Adept at using his mass as the screen man, Favors found himself near the top of pick and roll rankings. Thirteenth in the league in pick and roll possessions, and 16th in points per game as the roll man (just behind teammate Rudy Gobert), it’s possible Favors could have more untapped potential in this area, if he were to play in a system as the lone big man with better spacing from shooters.
Additionally, Favors looks to be a sound decision maker in those rolling situations, ranking 12th in drawing shooting fouls and 23rd in scoring frequency (56.4 percent, ahead of Hassan Whiteside, Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns, Andre Drummond and Al Horford). And when he’s not getting the ball off the screen, he’s crashing the boards. Perhaps his greatest skill set is his ability as an offensive rebounder; hauling in 2.6 offensive boards per game (10th in the league). That is a weapon that not every team has.
In four seasons under Quin Snyder, the Utah Jazz have become a defensive juggernaut — going from second to last in defensive rating in 2014 to second best in 2018. That’s obviously a testament to what Snyder has built in Salt Lake, and the kind of players they’ve designed his system around. Favors has had some stout defensive teammates, and though he has never been the sole anchor of that defense, he’s no slouch. And pre-Gobert, he was the de facto rim protector, ranking in the top 15 in blocks three years in a row. He’s a solid team defender, capable of holding down the paint when tasked. He had the 17th best defensive rating in the league last season.
When talking about a player with a style like Favors, the debate will always be their fit in the modern NBA. The league’s offenses are centered around exploiting traditional big men, getting them out in space away from the basket, and forcing them in to a lot of lateral movement. Favors doesn’t have ideal quickness in that department. He slimmed down last summer to gain some of that quickness, and to play more power forward alongside Gobert. But he still does not excel in space defensively. That was apparent in their playoff series against the Houston Rockets, where Snyder opted to reduce his minutes (averaging only 18 minutes per game in that series).
Favors split a lot of his time between power forward and center with Utah, but offensively he can’t play the modern four. He took 63 threes last season — a HUGE jump in attempts, when he only shot 26 in the previous seven seasons — but only made 22 percent. Favors looks to be making an effort in stretching his offensive game, but looking to him for spacing might be fruitless.
It’s easy to forget he’s only 26, seemingly having been in the league for so long. Still, there is a sense that Favors’ game is what it is. And perhaps a change of scenery would unlock more in him, but expecting new growth in his prime may not be realistic.
Fit with the Mavericks
The fit in Dallas is obvious in some ways — the Mavericks need a long term answer at center, Favors can provide that. He would bring the rebounding prowess and a solid defensive mentality that Carlisle longs for in his big men. Something will need to give in Utah, in terms of position and role for Favors. He started all 77 games this season, the majority alongside Gobert. But Favors spent 61 percent of his minutes at center. That’s where he should be.
Derrick Favors would also be a formidable pick and roll man for Dennis Smith Jr. The pick and pop game would not be as prevalent, but Carlisle could scheme off ball actions to shift the defense.
Favors would provide a long term, stable solution at center, but Cuban, Nelson and Carlisle should be asking themselves two questions when considering him. The first is what does Favors provide that Dwight Powell doesn’t? Though Powell (only five days younger) finished the season as the best pick and roll man in the game if you can believe it (first in Score Frequency and Points Per Possession, while being 38th in Possessions Per Game), the answer is rebounding and rim protection. Which are both major, and most likely enough to be convincing.
Second, does he fit the path the Mavs are on? Realistically he’s on a Harrison Barnes timeline (Barnes is 10 months younger). And perhaps that’s the problem. The Mavericks should be building a team around DSJ and this summer’s lottery pick. And while Favors could be a very reliable option long term, it’s not clear if that’s on option the Mavericks should take.