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Who You Got?: LaMarcus Aldridge vs. Derrick Favors

Russ Isabella/USA TODAY Sports

LaMarcus Aldridge was the biggest prize of the 2015 free-agent class, while Derrick Favors of the Utah Jazz has quietly (but steadily) elevated himself into the ranks of the NBA’s best power forwards.

At first glance, the comparison seems outlandish. Aldridge just signed a max contract with the San Antonio Spurs, is a four-time All-Star and has made three All-NBA squads. Favors has yet to make either an All-Star or an All-NBA Team. His highest individual honor in the NBA was being named to the All-Rookie Second Team.

But a deeper look into the numbers for both Aldridge and Favors paints a significantly closer picture. They make Favors a viable answer to the “Who You Got?” question: If you’re starting a team and only running it for one season, with which of these two players do you start your roster?

FACTS

Basic numbers tell pretty much the same story as the intro, as Aldridge was among the most individually productive players in the NBA in 2014-15:

Facts

The difference there is largely due to opportunity and role, though Aldridge’s well-rounded offensive game can’t be ignored. His ability to stretch the floor from either the 4 or 5 makes him a unique, true, big man.

OFFENSE

Aldridge scores points in bunches. There’s no denying that. He finished the season as the NBA’s seventh-leading scorer, even as he was generally the focal point of opposing defenses.

His ability to score in the post and from mid-range has been notable for years. And last season, he became a legitimate three-point threat for the first time in his career.

There is a concern with Aldridge’s efficiency, though. His heavy reliance on mid-range shots severely limits the number of points he generates per attempt.

In 2014-15, the league average for points per attempt in the range of three feet from the rim out to the three-point line was 0.78. Aldridge took 73.5 percent of his field goal attempts from that range. To his credit, his points per attempt from that range (0.83) was slightly better than the average, but not good enough to justify the volume.

He got 1.4 points per attempt when he was within three feet of the rim, which was slightly better than the league average of 1.26. His points per attempt from three-point range was right around the league average of 1.05. In other words, Aldridge’s least efficient shot made up the vast majority of his attempts.

Taking so many shots from such an inefficient range led to Aldridge scoring slightly fewer points per attempt (.96) than the average player (.99). Even if free throws were factored in, Aldridge’s efficiency was still below average.

Now of course, this is all out of context. It’s not as simple as saying he should take more shots within three feet and more three-pointers. He may have a harder time getting those shots, particularly the ones inside, and much of the Portland Trail Blazers’ offense was designed to get Aldridge the ball in what he perceived to be his sweet spots.

The point remains, however, that Aldridge doesn’t get his points as efficiently as he could. On average, 29.2 percent of all NBA field goal attempts came in that range where Aldridge took 73.5 percent of his.

Favors, meanwhile, was comfortably better than league average. He scored 1.05 points per field goal attempt, and drew trips to the free throw line at a higher rate than Aldridge. His efficiency was largely a result of getting the majority of his shots (43.6 percent) within three feet of the rim.

And while he’s no Aldridge from the mid-range, Favors has steadily improved over the course of his career and actually shot a better percentage in the range of 10-to-16 feet:

LaMarcus Aldridge
% of FGA by Distance FG% by Distance
Season FG% Dist. 2P 0-3 3-10 10-16 16 <3 3P 2P 0-3 3-10 10-16 16 <3 3P
2014-15 .466 12.8 .926 .192 .164 .206 .365 .074 .475 .701 .448 .392 .415 .352
Career .485 11.2 .979 .240 .205 .199 .336 .021 .489 .695 .439 .410 .420 .276
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/29/2015.
Derrick Favors
% of FGA by Distance FG% by Distance
Season FG% Dist. 2P 0-3 3-10 10-16 16 <3 3P 2P 0-3 3-10 10-16 16 <3 3P
2014-15 .525 7.2 .993 .436 .220 .204 .134 .007 .527 .745 .327 .401 .341 .167
Career .512 6.1 .996 .493 .252 .153 .097 .004 .513 .690 .344 .365 .292 .083
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/29/2015.

Scoring and scoring efficiency isn’t all there is to offense, though. Passing and ball control aren’t paramount for power forwards, but both skills are generally important and found money when coming from that position.

In terms of assists, Aldridge and Favors were almost identical last year, but Aldridge had an advantage in taking care of the ball:

Player Season AST% TOV% USG%
LaMarcus Aldridge 2014-15 9.2 7.2 30.2
Derrick Favors 2014-15 9.4 10.2 23.8
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/29/2015.

Aldridge’s edge there is about as wide as Favors’s edge in the scoring efficiency department. We’re dealing with very small fractions. A difference of one-tenth of one point per shot attempt takes awhile before it substantively starts to your hurt your team in a single game.

So while Aldridge was less efficient, he’s still the only player in this debate who’s already proven capable of scoring 20 points per game and leading an offense as the No. 1 option. There’s no telling what would happen to Favors’s efficiency if he was elevated to that role.

With that in mind, Aldridge takes the first category, though the difference between the two players is much smaller than most fans probably realize.

DEFENSE

While both players could have a reasonable argument on the offensive side of the ball, it’s tough to find any statistical measure that shows Aldridge to be a better defender than Favors.

Defense

Perhaps most importantly, after Utah traded one of the single worst defenders in the NBA, Enes Kanter, to the Oklahoma City Thunder, Utah’s defense was significantly better when Favors was on the floor.

From February 19 (when Kanter was dealt) to the end of the season, Utah allowed 92 points per 100 possessions while Favors was on the floor. It allowed 98.2 when he was off.

The Blazers, who had roughly the same team all season, gave up 102.5 points per 100 possessions when Aldridge was on the floor and 99.4 when he was off. For fairness’ sake, we can look at Portland’s defense after the acquisition of Arron Afflalo. After that deal, it gave up 104.4 points per 100 possessions when Aldridge was on and 104.8 when he was off.

Aldridge is a solid rim protector, and the adjusted plus-minus metrics show that he was a plus defender over the course of the season. He’s simply not as much of a plus as Favors.

With the Jazz big man taking this category, the debate is tied 1-1.

REBOUNDING

Aldridge and Favors are both very strong rebounders. And in terms of raw output, it’s hard to pull the two apart:

Advanced  Per 36  Per 100 Poss  Per Game
Player Season TRB% TRB TRB TRB
LaMarcus Aldridge 2014-15 15.5 10.4 14.7 10.2
Derrick Favors 2014-15 15.4 9.6 14.1 8.2
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/29/2015.

A closer look at how each player got his rebounds helps make the distinction.

A contested rebound is defined by NBA.com as a rebound “gathered where an opponent is within 3.5 feet.” Favors had a Contested Rebounding Percentage of 47, good for 20th among the 51 players who averaged at least three contested boards per game. Aldridge’s Contested Rebounding Percentage of 33.7 ranked 51st.

The majority of Aldridge’s rebounds were uncontested, while nearly half of Favors’s were contested.

Furthermore, Favors spent 37.6 percent of his minutes on the floor with Rudy Gobert, one of the best rebounders in the NBA. Gobert’s rebounding percentage of 20.7 was better than any individual Blazer.

So while the rebounding numbers look nearly identical on their surface, Favors gets the edge by virtue of the fact that he directly takes more boards away from the opposition.

VERDICT

Aldridge certainly produces a higher volume of raw numbers and is a proven No. 1 option, but the advanced numbers show that this matchup is very close:

Player PER TS% FTr STL% BLK% OWS DWS WS WS/48 OBPM DBPM BPM VORP
LaMarcus Aldridge 22.8 .528 .256 1.0 1.9 4.9 3.7 8.6 .165 0.3 0.0 0.3 1.4
Derrick Favors 21.8 .558 .362 1.4 4.3 5.0 3.3 8.3 .175 0.8 1.7 2.4 2.6
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/29/2015.

The deeper numbers relating to defense and rebounding show that Favors is the superior player in both respects. And for good measure, he scores more efficiently as well.

This may not be a popular verdict following the summer of Aldridge, but this edition of “Who You Got?” finds for Favors.

Andy Bailey is on Twitter @AndrewDBailey.

Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.

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