Few NBA teams had a busier offseason than the New Orleans Pelicans. Between the Anthony Davis trade, an NBA Lottery victory and the arrival of Zion Williamson, the often-overshadowed franchise actually made a bunch of headlines.
Thanks to the buzz surrounding the Brow’s departure and the arrival of Zion, L.A. Lakers youngsters Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball and even Philadelphia 76ers sharpshooter J.J. Redick, the national media didn’t pay much attention to the acquisition of Derrick Favors. Vice President of basketball operations David Griffin traded for the Utah Jazz veteran during July in exchange for a couple of second-round draft picks.
While the 28-year-old newcomer doesn’t have a flashy playing style or eye-popping statistics, he might be Alvin Gentry’s most underrated pickup.
Favors’ value will seep into every aspect of New Orleans’ game plan. As New Orleans aims to integrate all the newcomers, establish its identity and build chemistry, the 10th-year pro offers a stabilizing presence. And with Williamson’s meniscus injury sidelining him for six to eight weeks, Favors will be a crucial cog in the early going.
On offense, he offers three substantial contributions: interior scoring (and related rim-diving gravity), passing prowess and offensive rebounding. He impacts the game with or without the ball in his hands, which makes him useful in a variety of schemes.
While he played a mixture of 4 and 5 for the Jazz, Favors will spend nearly all of his time at center for the Pels. That’s his ideal spot given his skills, strengths and the modern NBA game. He can focus on operating primarily as a close-range finisher and step out to the perimeter only when situations call for it.
Favors has sharpened his fundamentals and feel in the paint throughout his career, and he’s become exceptionally efficient near the rim. He’s coming off back-to-back seasons hitting better than 74 percent within three feet of the bucket. He actually shot 68.5 percent within 10 feet and 74.4 percent within three feet during 2018-19, and that’s phenomenal considering he’s much more than just a catch-and-dunk big man.
Don’t let his modest New Orleans debut fool you (six points, five fouls in 21 minutes versus the Toronto Raptors Tuesday). He’s not the most electrifying player, but if Pelicans fans look close, they’ll love Favors’ efficient approach.
Favors scores fluidly with either hand via pick-and-roll dives and cuts, and he also finishes powerfully through traffic. He’s great at timing his cuts to devastate opponents if they stray just a hair too far on the weak side. Ball and Favors linked up on a few pick-and-roll and drive-and-dish plays in Tuesday’s opener, and I’d expect them to quickly develop terrific chemistry.
He’s also versatile on short rolls, has grown comfortable hitting mid-range jumpers or floaters, and also deftly dishes the rock to set up open teammates. He’s someone Gentry can trust as a secondary facilitator and decision-maker.
One of Favors’ most valuable assets is his knack for offensive rebounding. He’s regularly among the league leaders in offensive board percentage, finishing eighth in the league at 12.9 percent last season. Although he’s not an explosive leaper, Favors beats foes to the boards thanks to his 246-pound frame, great hands and elite timing.
The impact he makes on the glass should never be overlooked.
The only notable downside to Favors’ offensive repertoire? He doesn’t stretch the floor all the way out to three-point range. He shot 22.2 percent and 21.8 percent from deep in each of the past two seasons, so he doesn’t really scare opponents. However, Drawing the Defense illustrated how Jazz coach Quin Snyder weaponized Favors from the corner:
As useful as Favors is on offense, he is one of the most positionally sound individual and team stoppers.
He’s a stout post defender thanks to his sturdy body and nimble feet. Most forwards and bigs don’t fare too well in one-on-one showdowns with the big fella. Favors is one of the most disciplined interior defenders in the league, timing his contests expertly. He routinely makes a concerted effort to maintain verticality and not foul while airborne.
Favors’ versatility in pick-and-roll defense is even more valuable. He can do a lot more than play drop coverage: He can hedge aggressively on guards coming off screens and recover smoothly to the paint. In many scenarios, he’s quick enough to switch onto ball-handlers and stick with them on drives and pull-up jumpers.
Jazz star Rudy Gobert earned a well-deserved (worldwide) rep for his unmatched rim protection during recent years. However, Utah was still formidable defensively whenever Gobert took breaks and Favors anchored the defense. Bleacher Report’s Dan Favale unpacked some weighty statistical evidence of Favors’ impact:
Charging Favors with more reps in the middle is not a defensive drawback. The Jazz allowed only 105.3 points per 100 possessions (92nd percentile) last year when he played center without overhauling their approach. Ball-handlers were still funneled into the paint, and Favors protected the house. Opponents shot 50.1 percent against him at the rim, the lowest mark among everyone who faced more than four point-blank looks per game.
The convincing stats don’t end there. Favors also blanketed shooters en route to a defensive field-goal percentage of 26.1 percent last season. His knack for contesting foes both inside and out resulted in 118.1 net defensive points saved last season, per NBAMath.com.
The Pelicans have desperately needed defensive depth, consistency and stability in recent years. Favors is on an expiring contract, but his defensive presence could be invaluable for this group.
He’ll help this young, new roster work towards a strong defensive identity.
While you don’t see a ton of Favors jerseys across the country in NBA arenas, the media certainly respects him. Just prior to the 2019-20 season tipoff, Andy Bailey of Forbes.com compiled the average ranks of NBA players from 14 major outlets, and Favors clocked in at 61, the second-highest ranked Pelican.
He may not put up colossal numbers this season, and he’ll have to share big-man minutes with developing youngsters like Jahlil Okafor and rookies Jaxson Hayes and Nicolo Melli. But Favors’ contributions and example will loom large for New Orleans.
We may look back on his arrival as one of Griffin’s best moves of 2019.
Unless otherwise noted, all stats are from NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com.
Dan is a TBW staff writer. After playing college ball at Franciscan University, he covered the NBA and NBA Draft for Bleacher Report for four years and the FRS Network for three years. He now co-hosts the Unlimited Range podcast and continues to campaign for Doris Burke’s promotion to lead analyst at ESPN. Follow him on Twitter: @DanO_Bball