Utah Jazz: Derrick Favors could have been a valuable addition to disappointing Team USA

HOUSTON, TX - APRIL 17: Derrick Favors #15 of the Utah Jazz speaks to the media after Game Two of Round One of the 2019 NBA Playoffs against the Houston Rockets on April 17, 2019 at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - APRIL 17: Derrick Favors #15 of the Utah Jazz speaks to the media after Game Two of Round One of the 2019 NBA Playoffs against the Houston Rockets on April 17, 2019 at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images) /

After a disappointing overall showing in the FIBA World Cup, Team USA could have benefited greatly from the services of former Utah Jazz player Derrick Favors.

There are several reasons why Team USA ultimately fell short at the 2019 FIBA World Cup, falling in the quarter-finals to France then subsequently to Serbia in the ensuing consolation game. The principal scapegoat most will bring up is the fact that so many talented American players simply opted not to suit up and play for their country this summer.

That’s definitely a strong argument, but as Team USA head coach Gregg Popovich made ever so clear, this summer’s team wasn’t ever about the players that weren’t there, but rather about the players that were. A rather rag-tag group of mainly role players who had never played with one another gave up their summer to go out and play ball for the United States. And while it didn’t end nearly as well as hoped, they should be celebrated for the determination and effort they played with.

That said, one of the more troubling factors that led to Team USA’s downfall was that they didn’t have a talented enough group of big men, particularly centers, to deal with some of the size and physicality that prevails in FIBA play. Yes, Myles Turner is a promising budding player who had some great games in the tournament. But ultimately Rudy Gobert proved far too much for him in a big, bad way.

Brook Lopez and Mason Plumlee, the other two centers on the team, have their pros, but neither provides all that much to write home about and both were largely ineffective throughout the FIBA World Cup. Again, the American squad was largely forced to go with who they could get as the likes of Anthony Davis and Andre Drummond, among other bigs, opted not to participate this summer. But still, knowing how crucial size would be, it feels like prioritizing some more effective big men would have been highly important in the roster building process.

But you know a particular center who is renowned for his defense, is an effective scorer and has ample experience and success against some of even the most prolific NBA bigs in the game? I have one for you – how about former Utah Jazz favorite Derrick Favors?

Yes, although Favors’ numbers on the surface may not have equaled those of Brook Lopez last season (due to his awkward situation playing largely out of his best position as a teammate of Rudy Gobert’s) and he’s not the same type of three-point threat, I still feel confident saying he would have been a far better option than either Lopez or Plumlee. Heck, you could argue he would’ve been a better option as the starter over Turner.

If nothing else, Favors is the most physical of the three, and his strength, relentless motor and indomitable rebounding ability all could have bolstered Team USA significantly. While players like Rudy Gobert, Nikola Jokic and even Turkey’s Ersan Ilyasova had their way with the Americans, it’s hard not to wonder how much more effective Favors could have been in those contests.

Having shared time at both the four and the five with the Utah Jazz, Favors has proven capable of both protecting the rim and extending his defense out to the perimeter quite effectively, especially against shooters of his size.

When looking at per-36 minutes marks from a season ago, Favors bested each of Turner, Lopez and Plumlee in points at a whopping 18.3. He was also significantly better in rebounding at a mark of 11.4 per 36 minutes. His prolific 58.6 percent field goal percentage was second only to Plumlee’s by a narrow margin of 0.7 percent, and if we adjust for three-pointers taken and look at true shooting percentage, Derrick had a better mark than Plumlee by over two percentage points.

Defensively, Myles Turner – thanks largely to significantly higher opportunity – finished fifth in Defensive Player of the Year voting while Favors was nowhere to be found. As such, Turner could definitely be argued as the better defensive player and is almost certainly the better shot blocker.

But Favors’ lack of clout as a defensive force came more due to limited playing time than to lackluster performance. He is reputed among the Jazz faithful as a power defensively, easily better than Plumlee or Lopez and certainly stronger and more physical than Turner. And that just so happened to be exactly what Team USA was missing on a number of occasions.

In short, although Favors was largely overlooked last season due to sometimes playing in the shadow of Gobert and logging fewer minutes than he truly deserved, he’s an exceptional basketball player that would have been a perfectly fitting candidate for this less-talented-than-usual USA squad and probably even the team’s most well-equipped center for FIBA play had he been given the chance.

Not to mention, considering that Team USA largely lacked cohesiveness, was wildly unfamiliar with one another and sometimes fell into a poor habit of unwise hero ball, Derrick’s selflessness and ability to fit in with any roster and any role asked of him would have provided an enormous lift.

Donovan Mitchell, who was predicted to shoulder a massive scoring load for the United States, enjoys an incredible chemistry with Favors. Having that familiar face in action with him could have very well worked wonders for Mitchell, Team USA as a whole and Favors, had he been a part of the team.

Now, I have no idea whether or not Favors was considered or if he even would have accepted an invitation had it been extended. But I like to think that he would have given the rarity of this opportunity if he’d only been given a chance. Team USA desperately needed more physicality, size, rebounding and interior defense on their squad to give them a chance to truly compete against the many prolific opponents from around the world. And Derrick Favors could have very well been just the one to rise to that occasion.

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Should Team USA find themselves in this sticky roster situation once again down the road where the most talented players turn down the chance to play, ideally Jerry Colangelo, Gregg Popovich and Co. can do a better job of compiling a more fitting roster that addresses the needs they have to compete against international squads. Attempting to bring in Derrick Favors would have helped in a significant way in at least one of the team’s most pressing and costly weaknesses.