On a frigid night in Atlanta fewer than 18 months ago, Derrick Favors sat at a dais at the ESPN Zone in Buckhead. With a full audience of family, friends and media before him, the kid they called Stix was presented with a blue plastic bag. He reached inside and pulled out a navy blue Georgia Tech cap. With two hands and a broad smile, he firmly placed it on his head.
Georgia Tech has been a pipeline to the pros in recent years, a weigh station where NBA prospects quickly develop their raw talent under Paul Hewitt, then move on. Favors arrived at Tech almost certain to be yet another one-and-done phenom. ESPN.com's Chad Ford had him ranked No. 2 on the big board prior to the season and scouts salivated at his mobility and defensive mojo.
Once the college season started, Favors didn't disappoint on the defensive end and bullied opponents on the offensive glass, but Tech's listless perimeter attack had trouble feeding Favors down on the block. In mid-February, Jonathan Givony described the peculiar dynamics in Atlanta:
While [Favors has] certainly shown plenty of glimpses of his outstanding potential, it’s tough not to be slightly disappointed in the production he’s achieved thus far -- relative to other members of his class at least.
Before analyzing his strengths and weaknesses, it’s very much necessary to take a look at the situation Favors has found himself in at Georgia Tech, a team that struggles badly in the half-court and relies extremely heavily on their defense and offensive rebounding ability to keep them in games. They have little in the ways of perimeter shooting, suffer from very poor spacing on the perimeter, and have given their opponents few reasons not to pack it in defensively and just try and control the paint.
With no playmakers on the roster to create easy looks for him or even consistently make a fundamentally sound post-entry pass, and clearly playing redundantly alongside a big man with almost the same exact strengths and weaknesses as him in Gani Lawal, Favors’ weaknesses could not possibly be magnified or exposed any worse than they already have.
... He’s incredibly gifted from a physical standpoint, showing a combination of length and athleticism that is simply unparalleled at the college level. He runs the floor like a deer, is outrageously explosive around the rim, and is a fantastic target for entry-passes thanks to his terrific hands and the amazing extension he gets around the basket.
Favors converts a super efficient 59% of his field goal attempts ... a testament to his terrific finishing ability. Unfortunately he takes only 7.5 shots per game, as his teammates are often unwilling or unable to get him the ball in a position to score.
With John Wall and Evan Turner claiming the No. 1 and 2 spots on most mock draft boards, Favors found himself inextricably linked with DeMarcus Cousins for the battle of "best big man in the draft." (Although Favors and Cousins didn't confront each other during the 2009-10 season, they faced off in one of the most hyped high school games of the 2008-09 season).
How do the two bigs match up? Devin Kharpertian of Nets Are Scorching hosted a lengthy interior monologue debating the respective attributes of Favors and Cousins:
The pro-Favors crowd will point to his once-or-twice-in-a-decade athleticism for his size, his innate finishing ability, his upside, his temperament and his conditioning as marks over Favors. The pro-Cousins legion will conversely point to Cousins’s insane production, his overpowering body and his mean streak as reasons why he’ll dominate at the next level.
They’re both right. Frankly, I see both of these guys succeeding at the next level. They’ve both got a few reasons why they might not, but similarly they both have about 100 reasons why they will.
While Cousins has been a Rochard test to measure skills against mental makeup, Favors has been quietly making the workout rounds to mixed results. Some have seen the elements of his explosive game that drew comparisons to Dwight Howard when Favors was at South Atlanta High School. Others see a limited power forward in a league that demands far more out of the position than it used to. Sebastian Pruiti broke down Favors' full game in a comprehensive film session and was impressed by Favors' instincts below the foul line. There was also this takeaway:
[T]here are two things that catch your eye when you watch Favors play.
The first is his work ethic on the basketball court. Georgia Tech’s offense was very helter skelter during this past season, and that is putting it nicely. There would be series of five to ten straight possessions where Derrick Favors wouldn’t even get a touch. Despite all of that, every time down the court, Favors would get to his spot on the court and post up, just as hard and strong as the last time (even though he didn’t get the basketball).
The second thing you notice is Favors’ basketball IQ. Despite being “raw,” Favors seems to know what he is doing with the basketball. In the four or five games I was able to see, Derrick Favors never looked flustered. He was comfortable with the basketball and always knew where he wanted to go with it. He also does the little things. We already talked about Favors putting his hands up when retreating to his man, but he also runs the floor very well, knows how to properly space out the court, and instinctively chins the basketball when grabbing a rebound, getting those elbows out and preventing defenders from reaching in and stealing it.
In a Top 5 headlined by a point guard, a plug-and-play wing, an multi-talented small forward with a million dollar smile and a combustible but immensely talented big man, Favors is the mystery guest. Given all the fanfare that accompanied him out of South Atlanta fewer than 18 months ago, a little anonymity might go a long way.