The entire concept of “underrated” is a tricky one. How do you measure it? And at what point is someone so underrated that they actually become overrated?
The idea recently came up in Sports Illustrated‘s endeavor to rank the top 100 players in the NBA heading into 2015-16. Of the Utah Jazz’s Derrick Favors (ranked 37th), Ben Golliver wrote, “Grizzlies guard Mike Conley has been the NBA’s reigning “most underrated” player for two or three years now, a length of time that really should invalidate the title. So let’s nominate a new candidate: Derrick Favors.”
As in any nominating process, there should be some time and attention reserved for analysis before declaring if Favors is indeed the most underrated player in the league.
Interestingly enough, the writer who nominated Favors in SI may have underrated him within that particular project. Coming in at 37, Favors finds himself behind Andre Drummond (35), Dirk Nowitzki (28) and Serge Ibaka (25), to name a few:
Now, one could certainly pick and choose which of the above numbers to pay particular attention to, but no one in that group combines defense, scoring, rebounding, passing and free throw shooting to the degree Favors does.
He even tops both Kevin Love (17) and LaMarcus Aldridge (12) in both Box Plus-Minus and Value Over Replacement Player. That doesn’t necessarily mean Favors is better than either of those players, but by at least two different measures, he was more impactful. He should at least be in the same conversation with those two, but he typically isn’t.
And this isn’t a takedown of SI‘s rankings, which were quite good, well reasoned and amply analyzed. They just happen to be the first major outlet to produce this kind of forward-looking ranking (ESPN’s #NBARank will surely generate a lot more debate).
Another indicator of Favors underrated status came earlier in the summer, when he wasn’t invited to Team USA’s minicamp:
Plumlee, Faried, Drummond & Harris invited to Team USA minicamp. No Derrick Favors. Plumlee & Faried, real confusing. pic.twitter.com/dtCaLHNuJo
— Andy Bailey (@AndrewDBailey) August 6, 2015
Teammate Rudy Gobert, who himself garners more national media attention than Favors, was as shocked as anyone by the snub:
— Rudy Gobert (@rudygobert27) August 6, 2015
Also in reaction to the snub, Hardwood Knocks’ Dan Favale did some digging on Favors’s statistical comps and came up with something that could surprise a lot of readers:
— Hardwood Knocks (@HardwoodKnocks) August 6, 2015
So, why exactly is Favors so underrated? And is there anyone who can challenge him for the crown of most underrated?
Certainly, playing for the Jazz doesn’t help Favors garner much attention from national media or casual fans outside of Utah. According to Nielson population data (by way of Redditor humanhighlightreel), the Jazz play in front of the sixth-smallest media market in the league.
Add to that the fact that the Jazz haven’t made the playoffs since 2012, and it’s easy to see why Favors’s steadily improving game has gone largely unnoticed.
The cure, of course, is winning.
The San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and Memphis Grizzlies are all playing smaller markets, but still grab headlines by virtue of their consistent success. The New Orleans Pelicans are also in a smaller market, but Anthony Davis, already an NBA megastar, demands some limelight there.
If Utah and Favors continue their upward trajectory together, he could have both those qualifications for his due respect and attention in no time.
Andy Bailey is on Twitter @AndrewDBailey.
Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.