Utah Jazz alumni: Derrick Favors finding his footing in New Orleans

Derrick Favors, New Orleans Pelicans. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images) (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
Derrick Favors, New Orleans Pelicans. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images) (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images) /

Former Utah Jazz center Derrick Favors is finally helping the Pelicans win some games after a horrendous start.

I miss the days of Derrick Favors in a Utah Jazz uniform. He was the main return in the Deron Williams trade back in 2011, and had loads of potential packed in his tall and slim frame.

Drafted third overall by the New Jersey Nets, Favors was a raw talent that couldn’t do much more than rebound and dunk the ball; fortunately the Jazz coaching staff was able to help Favs carve out his NBA career as a two-way player with some great defensive chops.

After the Utah Jazz finally cleared space for Favors to start, he averaged 13 points and nearly nine boards a game. The only catch was the Jazz went 25-57 that season, and it was clear the Jazz needed much more help. There was still hope Favs could thrive as a third wheel on a championship team, but once again he had to share the limelight with another teammate.

Rudy Gobert blossomed in the 2014-15 season as a terrifying rim protector, besting the already pretty good Favors in defensive impact. The majority of the league was zigging toward more floor spacing at that time led by the juggernaut Golden State Warriors, but the Jazz chose to zag and pair Favors with Gobert.

Instead of running a fast paced and open spaced offense like Quin Snyder probably would have liked to, the Jazz played at snail pace with a grit and toughness resembling the old Memphis Grizzlies. The Jazz had the net rating and point differential of a playoff team, and resembled the 2003 Detroit Pistons in many ways.

They showed the potential of being the only kryptonite to the Golden State Warriors, having several close and exciting bouts with the Dubs in Salt Lake City. Despite the great advanced stats on Gobert and the Jazz defense, they couldn’t win close games or keep their roster healthy. That kept them out of the playoffs in 2016, and prevented a more exciting playoff run in 2017.

The following two seasons Favors’ role diminished to a backup center. He was still elite defensively and a great roll man in the pick and roll, but couldn’t get minutes with Gobert ahead of him. Furthermore it was time for the Jazz to get a stretch four and let Quin Snyder the offense he had been wanting to run for five years.

Despite the strong emotional bond between Favors and the Utah Jazz, it was best for both sides to split up. The Jazz traded him for a pair of second round picks, and had the necessary cap space to sign Bojan Bogdanovic. The hope was that the Utah Jazz would have a great year integrating new pieces, and Favs would help the young Pelicans make a playoff push.

Between injuries and an unfamiliar setting, Favors looked lost early on. He missed what would have been his first time back in Vivint Arena as an opposing player thanks to back spasms, then his mother unexpectedly died and he had to take some time off.

But since Favors returned on December 13, the Pelicans have won five of their last nine games, including a current four game winning streak. They are getting the version of Favors they were hoping to get.

In those last four wins, Favs has averaged 10.5 points, 14.5 rebounds (!), 3.8 assists, and most importantly 30 minutes a game. He has finally found his footing in New Orleans after getting lost in the shuffle with Brandon Ingram’s breakout year.

He’s a big reason why the Pelicans were able to move up in several writers’ power rankings this morning. New Orleans jumped 10 spots in CBS Sports, nine spots in ESPN, and own the longest winning streak in the Western Conference.

Grant Hughes of Bleacher Report credited Favs as the “vital” piece of the Pelicans’ recent turnaround, raving about his surprisingly good passing skills (it’s not a surprise to me). Tim MacMahon of ESPN was impressed with his impact on the Pelicans defense (again not a surprise), and it appears that Favors is still very much the hulk man we all know him to be.

Game thread: Jazz must remain focused vs. Detroit. dark. Next

As for the Pelicans, their playoff hopes are not dead yet if they make a strong run to end the season. They are three and a half games back of the eighth seeded Portland Trail-Blazers, and the return of Zion Williamson along with a rejuvenated Favors should make for an exciting finish to the season.