Is Utah Jazz Forward Derrick Favors Ready to Bounce Back?

Have you ever tried playing basketball on one leg? Derrick Favors says he did that for the entire 2016-17 season.

Explaining why a player posted the worst numbers of his career can sometimes be difficult and convoluted. Layers unfold concerning a new team environment, offensive system, role or personal situation. Sometimes that layer is simply an injury. But more often than not, multiple reasons are applicable, so while attributing Favors’ poor season to the knee soreness is fair, digging deeper helps us find the nuance to that downturn.

How can he return to the All-Star level he’d displayed over the past couple years?

Before taking a look at his numbers, it’s important to get an understanding of the injury he suffered. Back in October, Favors was projected to miss just a few days with knee soreness—maybe a handful of games for precautionary reasons. Those couple of days turned into a few weeks when it was discovered he had IT band syndrome in his left knee, which is related to overuse. The Jazz slowly eased him in during the beginning of the season by placing him on a minutes restriction, but it didn’t last long. The pesky joint kept plaguing him as he missed the next month of the season, and then an additional 14 games later in the year due to a bone bruise in that same left knee.

Dragging around a bum leg for the majority of the season is hard on any NBA player, but even more so for a player like Favors. His explosiveness puts him in a league of his own, as evidenced by the work he does with P3, according to Zach Lowe of ESPN:

The sports-science experts at P3 in Santa Barbara have told me Favors is the most explosive NBA big man they’ve ever tested — a rare mix of speed, size and force. As Favors’ masters the nuances of NBA defense, he can do even more with that raw ability. There aren’t many behemoths who can shut down a drive on the pick-and-roll, recover out to a popping big man in time to snuff an open jumper, change directions on a dime and track that big man’s foray to the basket

Draining that athleticism will impact performance, no matter how you slice it. But the injuries, luckily, seem to be something a long summer of rest will resolve. Even with a rest day before a game in 2016-17, he was able to show noticeable split differences compared to games in which he played without a day off.

If he’s going to improve with a clean bill of health, it’ll be in a couple key areas where he had dominated during his earlier time with the Jazz.

Still only 26 years old, he has plenty of time left to convince the world he can not only reclaim his spouts of dominance, but also elevate to another level as he enters his true prime. Even getting to that former level would be a huge boon to the Jazz, as he was one of only four players to average over 16.0 points, 8.0 rebounds and 1.5 blocks from 2014-16. The other three? Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins and Pau Gasol.

Branded as a power forward, his game harkens back to the old-school days of bruisers at the position. His range is minimal, occasionally extending out past 16 feet but never allowing him to nail the long-range two-point jumper above 35 percent of the time. Primarily reliant on shots in the restricted area, he shot over 70 percent in that space over the aforementioned two-year period, which ranked among the top 10 for players with at least 300 relevant attempts during both of those seasons.

When doing that type of damage at the rim, you generally need to be an effective post-up player, rebounder or pick-and-roll threat. As capable a rebounder as Favors may be, his bread and butter comes through the PnR game. In 2015-16, he scored 1.11 points per possession (PPP) as the roll man, which ranked fourth in the NBA for players who took more than two field-goal attempts per game out of the set.

Attacking the rim relentlessly, he placed in the league’s top tier on putbacks during that season. Putbacks aren’t generally a large source of a player’s offense, but he still ranked third at 1.31 PPP.

Offensively, Favors billed himself as a big man who could thunder through the lane and finish at the basket or anchor himself in the post and clean up his teammates’ messes when they missed shots. An old-school hybrid mixing his brute style with a versatile tenacity on the opposite end of the floor, he made himself the Jazz’s best player during that healthy time period.

That player is one of the 30 best in the league, but he wasn’t that player last season. In some circles, he wasn’t even considered a top-100 force, based on his numbers from the 2016-17 campaign. 

First and foremost, Favors simply wasn’t on the floor as much. He appeared in only 50 games and averaged fewer than 25 minutes. When he did play, he often reminded fans of his prior dominance, flashing that studliness during a three-game stretch in November with a stat line of 16.7 points, 11.0 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game. In Game 7 of the postseason’s first round, he showed up with a monster performance of 17 points and 11 rebounds as Rudy Gobert fought foul trouble:

But the majority of the year was filled with fits of mediocrity. His field-goal percentage plunged below 50 percent for the first time since 2012, and a player of Favors’ ilk cannot afford that efficiency dip. He was one of seven forwards and centers in the league to shoot under 50 percent while taking fewer than 50 three-pointers on the season.

A main source of that efficiency drought stems from his play at the rim. The previous dominance in the restricted area was replaced with substandard results, as he ranked 167th with a meager shooting clip of 56.2 percent. Dropping well over 150 spots is generally a good reason for a decline.

As you may expect, the greatness he displayed in the pick-and-roll game also wasn’t at that same level. He plunged to 0.96 PPP, which put him in the 39.4 percentile. Similarly, he fell to the 38.6 percentile on putbacks by shooting a modest 54.5 percent.

Other advanced metrics for Favors all fell significantly this year, including his player efficiency rating, win shares, total points added, and real plus/minus. He took fewer shots, turned the ball over more and continually found himself marginalized in Utah’s upgraded offense. The combination of better weapons, along with a less-than-stellar Favors, made for the perfect storm.

Credit to him for remaining a stalwart on the defensive side of the court, though. He and Gobert should continue to instill fear into opponents, as the combo held opponents to 98.9 points per 100 possessions. For context, the San Antonio Spurs placed first in the league last season by holding teams to a 100.9 defensive rating. But even on this end, holes popped up. His 2.7 block percentage was easily the worst of his career and, as you may have guessed, his explosiveness was probably a big reason for that sharp decline.

Will he get back to that level?

No one can say for sure, but concluding a 26-year-old can’t come back from a down year because of manageable offseason injuries seems a bit premature. Favors could use a more-reliable jumper to space the floor and keep the defense honest on the pick-and-roll. But if all that he gains back is that bounce in his step, it’s not hard to foresee him being the force everyone previously came to enjoy. Gaining one of the NBA’s most gifted passers in Ricky Rubio should only help him out.

At the very least, he should be able to say he played on two legs this year, and that should be enough to vault him back toward All-Star contention.


Follow Thomas on Twitter @Trende19.

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Unless otherwise indicated, all stats are from NBA Math, Basketball Reference or