One reason that it’s been hard to leap fully aboard the Utah Jazz bandwagon is that the team essentially has two centers. Both Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert are way more comfortable in the post than on the perimeter, especially given that their shooting range extends to about the free throw line (in Favors’ case) and about three feet away from the rim (in Gobert’s case).
While this style of play would hardly have been noteworthy in, say, the 90s, what’s most in vogue around the league is big men who are reliable threats from beyond the 3-point line. The assumption is that post-dwelling centers can’t handle having to play defense across the entire half-court, and thus the player with floor-stretching ability—the stretch 4 or even the stretch 5—is at an inherent disadvantage.
As players like Favors can prove, though, that’s an erroneous assumption. The truth is that the most talented player wins the match-up, regardless of how far their shooting range extends. And so far, Favors has been the most talented power forward on the floor in each of Utah’s first three regular season games. The result is that Favors has started the season as the best Jazz scorer both per game and per minute. Let’s look at each of the three match-ups, including two against stretch-4’s, where Favors has emerged victorious:
Game One, v. Detroit Pistons / Primary Match-Up: Ersan Ilyasova / Favors: 10-of-15; 26 points in 35 minutes
Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy intentionally pursued Ersan Ilyasova on the trade market this offseason, no doubt in an attempt to replicate the stretched-floor offense that Van Gundy built around Dwight Howard —including all-time stretch-4 Rashard Lewis —with the Orlando Magic a few years ago. As we can see from NBA.com’s video box scores, footage of Favors’ 15 shots shows that, for the most part, neither Ilyasova nor the Pistons’ backup options of Anthony Tolliver and Marcus Morris could do much to stop post-ups from Favors. All three Pistons players are built to play on the perimeter. The one defender that Favors did struggle against was wunderkind starting center Andre Drummond, perhaps one of the few players in the league who is capable of defending Favors in the post without help.
On the defensive end, Favors held up his end of the bargain: Ilyasova scored eight points and gathered just two rebounds in 22 minutes.
Game Two, v. Philadelphia 76ers / Primary Match-Up: Nerlens Noel / Favors: 6-of-17; 20 points in 29 minutes
Philadelphia, for all of their current weaknesses, is one of the few other teams in the league who start two “center-esque” players, in Nerlens Noel and rookie Jahlil Okafor. As a result, Favors had what is so far his worst game of the year. While the 20 points in the final box score doesn’t look bad at first —and Favors’ resourcefulness in getting to the line (8-of-10) is evidence of his veteran savvy —the reality is that 20 points on 17 shots isn’t a super-efficient night. Looking at Favors’ 17 shots, Noel’s already-dominant defense clearly prevented Favors from ever establishing on offensive rhythm, including a third-quarter blocked shot.
Game Three, v. Indiana Pacers / Primary Match-Up: C.J. Miles / Favors: 9-of-16; 18 points in 31 minutes
It’s, uh, it’s pretty hard to tell what the plan is in Indiana. I knew that franchise centerpiece Paul George was very vocal in expressing his displeasure about playing a stretch-4. What I didn’t realize was that C.J. Miles was the team’s Plan B at the position. At 6’6″ and 230, Favors’ former teammate in Utah looks a lot more like a starting shooting guard in today’s league than a starting power forward.
It’s tempting to separate Favors’ first half (1-of-5 shooting), from his second half (8-of-11), because Utah essentially played the two different halves like two different teams, as Ben Dowsett discussed at Salt City Hoops. There are so many examples from Favors’ 16 shots where he simply steamrolled Miles that it’s curious that the Pacers didn’t use Lavoy Allen or rookie Myles Turner to try and hold him back.