Derrick Favors is a big part of the Utah Jazz's a high flying future.
Tiago Splitter is rolling to the right side of the rim, wide open -- but only for a moment -- because here comes Jazz big man Derrick Favors flying across the court.
The ball moves, but so does Favors. In an instant later, he is all the way on the left side of the key, where Gary Neal starts to turn the corner off a pick-and-roll. Favors glides into position, his quick feet wide and balanced, his long arms waving to obscure Neal's vision and deter any thought of driving.
There's a reason the Spurs finished the season with the best offense in the NBA, though. They find good shots. With Favors on the left, the ball goes back to Splitter on the right. Somehow, Favors recovers once more, this time meeting the Brazilian at the summit of his rim attack for a clean block.
It was only one play in a first-round series that deserves to be remembered only for its lopsidedness. The Spurs are, by far, the better team. But Jazz fans have plenty to like, and through the four straight losses, Favors still managed to show eye-popping potential.
In fact, on court/off court ratings from NBA.com suggest the Jazz rarely had success scoring or defending against the Spurs when Favors wasn’t on the court, because even mighty San Antonio has little in the way of answers for Favors' rare combination of size and athleticism.
The ability to make the play described above is unique amongst Jazz big men and exceedingly rare in the NBA. It’s the very kind of recognition, effort and athleticism that made Tyson Chandler, who combines stalwart rim-protection with astute pick-and-roll defense, this year’s Defensive Player of the Year.
And even though Favors defines “raw” on offense, his potential remains high. He has the ability to reliably catch the ball 15 feet from the hoop, and use one power dribble to finish with power. Most players never become the next Amare Stoudemire, obviously, but Favors is on the short list with the tools to even try.
Even though fellow Jazz forwards Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson are dynamite inside players, neither can reach the (literal) heights that Favors does as the dive-man in a pick-and-roll. It may seem basic, but precious few big men in the NBA can catch and finish anything on dives to the rim -- the list includes Josh Smith, Blake Griffin, Kenneth Faried and very few others.
Already, Favors distorts defenses. When he moves through the lane, teams go to great lengths to keep him from catching the ball, knowing that when he gets it, his dominance of the airspace will come to bear. This draws defenders his way, creating opportunities for teammates. A Tyson Chandler lob or cut presented a similar threat and was a big part of the Mavericks offense last season, though even Chandler doesn't have Favors' quick first step.
Meanwhile the Nets, the team that drafted Favors third overall then traded him before the end of his rookie season, are desperately hoping to get a top pick again this season. If they do, they will likely draft someone like Anthony Davis or Thomas Robinson -- a player who will rebound, finish above the rim and offer much needed resistance against drives into their paint.
A player like that can anchor a franchise.
A player like the one Derrick Favors is becoming in Utah.