Has Derrick Favors Become Expendable or is He the Utah Jazz’s Missing Link?

Feb 11, 2017; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz forward Derrick Favors (15) warms up prior to the game against the Boston Celtics at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 11, 2017; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz forward Derrick Favors (15) warms up prior to the game against the Boston Celtics at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports /

Derrick Favors’ constant struggle with injuries this season and his resulting inability to produce beg the question, is he expendable for the Utah Jazz? Or will his eventual healthy return prove to be just what the team needs?

It’s beginning to look like the bad news regarding the Derrick Favors injury situation may never end.

As our very own Zack Padmore was quick to report this morning, Favors underwent an MRI which once again revealed a bone contusion in his left knee. He’s obviously out for the game against the Los Angeles Clippers tonight and will miss extended time with a reevaluation set for next week.

This is yet another of many setbacks that has faced the once prolific Jazz power forward during the 2016-17 campaign. Despite looking like a fringe All-Star and a key piece to the Jazz core last season at 16.4 points and 8.1 rebounds per game, Derrick’s lingering injuries have hindered him from being able to make any sort of consistent impact this season.

And given that despite the fact that Favors has only logged a handful of significant performances this year and yet the Utah Jazz are having their best season since the 2009-10 campaign and are currently in fourth place in the West, some may wonder, is Derrick Favors truly vital to this team’s success? Or is he proving to be an expendable piece?

There’s certainly an argument to be made about Derrick’s expendability. The Jazz are posting a net rating of 5.8 with him off the court as compared to 3.6 with him on. Favors’ detriment has been most noticeable on offense where the Jazz post an offensive rating of 105.1 with him on and 108.1 with him off.

Derrick’s win shares are also down significantly from last year as he’s posting 2.6 wins as compared to the 7.1 he put up last year. Also, the Jazz are 10-9 (.526) without Favors. That isn’t a bad percentage by any means, but compared to how the Jazz have fared without the likes of Gordon Hayward and Rodney Hood, it’s clear that Favors’ absence has been less damaging. Utah is 3-4 (.429) without Hayward and 9-10 (.473) without Hood.

Of course those numbers may be a bit misleading in and of themselves given that the Jazz have certainly both won and lost games where Derrick has essentially been a nonfactor. At just 9.6 points and 6.2 rebounds this season and only six games where he’s scored over his season average from a year ago, it’s plain to see how one might think Favors’ presence on this team isn’t exactly vital.

Furthermore, in a league that is trending towards smaller and more versatile lineups, Joe Johnson has been an absolute godsend for the Jazz at the power forward position. Some of Utah’s most effective lineups have come with JJ at the four, and his ability to stretch the floor on offense while using his strength to compete even with larger bigs on defense have made him a force to be reckoned with.

And, yes, while the Jazz most certainly could use an upgrade over both Boris Diaw and Trey Lyles who have struggled immensely this year, Diaw’s contract is non-guaranteed for next year and therefore could be replaced by a capable power forward at a similar salary quite easily and Lyles is still just 21-years-old and has plenty of time to develop and prove himself.

Not to mention, Joel Bolomboy who had his first opportunity with extended minutes in Utah’s loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday had a few encouraging moments during his time on the floor and could potentially be a stopgap at the power forward position if need be.

However, there’s also the argument that while it’s true that a wounded Favors hasn’t done a whole lot to help the Jazz this year, rather than that meaning that he’s expendable, it simply means that the Jazz need a healthy Favors back more than ever. In fact, with his skill set from last season obviously missing, you could say that fringe-All Star caliber Favors is exactly the missing link the Jazz need.

To that point, Bleacher Report’s Adam Fromal put it quite well when he wrote the following:

"From the start of the season to the present day, Derrick Favors has struggled to look like, well, Derrick Favors. His knee keeps troubling him, and it limits him significantly even when he is able to step onto the floor."

"The Utah Jazz have persevered, to the point that they remain in contention for home-court advantage during the playoffs’ opening round. But just imagine what might happen if their fringe All-Star candidate is able to join forces with George Hill, Gordon Hayward and Rudy Gobert while operating at full strength."

Given what a key role Favors played last season, if Utah was able to insert him at that former talent level this year, it certainly would seem like it should give the Jazz a much-needed boost at a position of need.

However, Favors has also done more this season than many fans give him credit for. Although the Jazz’s net and offensive ratings have been worse with Favors off the court, defensively it’s actually been slightly better when D-Faves is in action as the team’s posted a defensive rating of 102.3 when he’s off and 101.6 when he’s on (just to clarify, the lower the defensive rating the better).

Part of that could be because Lyles and Diaw are less than formidable defenders, but it’s also definitely due to the fact that Favors is simply a good defensive player.

And though defending modern day power forwards is a viable concern for Favors, last season he was beginning to show he could play well against floor stretchers as evidenced by his ability to slow the likes of Anthony Davis and Paul Millsap, to name a couple.

Which gets me to my next point. To be more fair and accurate about getting a better sense of Favors’ worth to this team, I think it’s important to look at what he did last season when fully healthy rather than look at his impact this season while he’s been, as he put it himself, playing on one leg.

Of course I’ve already been over how much better Favors’ individual numbers were last season, but what about his impact on the team?

Interestingly enough, Utah went 10-10 without Favors last season and actually posted a losing record of 30-32 with him. In terms of offensive and defensive rating, Favors contributions were exactly the opposite of this season.

The Jazz put up 104.4 points per 100 possessions with Favors on the court compared to 101.8 when he was off, but defensively they were worse. With Derrick on the court they allowed 103.3 points per 100 possessions and just 99.9 when he was off. Overall, Utah’s net rating was also slightly better (0.9 points per 100 possessions) with Favors off the court.

Those figures don’t exactly help his case for not being expendable.

However, last season in significantly more minutes than this year, the Jazz were also considerably better with Favors on the floor in many key areas such as assists, field goal shooting and three-point shooting. Thus his impact was most certainly felt on offense and as I mentioned before, his 7.1 win shares from last season are another indicator that he provided a key boost to this Jazz squad.

So do I think the Jazz are a better team with a healthy Favors in the lineup? Yes, I do. Yet given that his impact on the team even last season isn’t quite as overwhelming as one would hope, while I wouldn’t go so far as to call him expendable, I certainly think he leans much closer to that direction than he does to being an untouchable part of Utah’s core.

Nevertheless, as this season has clearly shown, a big difference between whether Favors is expendable or not is his health. The Jazz have been a good team this season, but there’s no questioning that they need extra talent to become a true contender.

Considering how hard it can be to get free agents to come to Utah, adding the skills of a healthy Favors could very well be the best solution to the missing talent issue facing the Jazz. If his lingering knee issues continue, however, that couldn’t be further from the case.

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So with Favors set to miss more time with a bone contusion, the Jazz can only stand by and hope that he’ll be able to make a healthy return in time for the postseason, where they’ll likely need him if they hope to hold their own against some of the West’s daunting power forwards.

But, unfortunately, with only 16 games left in the regular season, time is quickly ticking down for Derrick Favors to prove that he is an indispensable part of this team. And unless he has an enormous turn-around, his future with the Jazz will remain very much in question.

All stats courtesy of NBA.com and basketball-reference.com