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The final shot of Derrick Favors' shootaround on Friday morning was glorious, the kind of shot he may tell his twin daughters about someday when explaining how good their dad was at basketball.
Taking a pass from a teammate well beyond the 3-point line, Favors shimmied, then launched a turnaround jumper to the ceiling. Twenty-seven feet later, the ball hit the backboard and nestled softly through the hoop. While the rest of the Utah Jazz looked on, Favors simply raised his arms and sat down, clearly having fun.
And that's it. Derrick Favors is having fun playing again. After years of frustration as a cast-off lottery pick, a developing big in Utah's rotation and somewhat buried on Ty Corbin's bench, Favors is enjoying his breakout season. For the first time, a team is largely his.
"I think last year was my first time having fun again, playing basketball," Favors said. "I got comfortable with talking to the coaches. I felt more responsible and got more comfortable as a team leader. I have more responsibility offensively and defensively. I feel better in my role, and I think that's made me open up a lot more."
As the Jazz prepare to face the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday, Favors is shining in his role as a difference-making power forward.
Favors, in his sixth season out of Georgia Tech, is averaging 16 points and nine rebounds per game, to go with 1.5 blocks. He's been a hub offensively in the post and on the perimeter when he drifts to 15-18 feet from the basket. Defensively, he's been almost spectacular, not just blocking shots, but in pick-and-roll coverages and defending the perimeter against stretch power forwards and smaller guards.
Beyond the numbers, Favors is playing with an edge previously unseen. For the first time in his career, he's showing emotion on the floor, scowling after snatching rebounds, celebrating after baskets. People are noticing. Whispers around the league suggest Favors could have a shot at the All-Star Game, if he continues to play well and if the Jazz find consistency in the win column.
Yet, he remains unfazed.
"I think I've played well, but I feel like can play a lot better," Favors said. "As far as offensively, I feel like I can play better, like there's more stuff I can do. As far as being an All-Star, you never know. You never know how stuff works out, as far as how political the process is."
So, how has Favors been able to explode? He said the maturation has been six years in the making. He came into the NBA a raw specimen, a 6-foot-10 athletic man-child with few refined skills.
As the No. 3 pick of his draft, Favors was supposed to dominate from the jump. He didn't, and needed time to adjust, something the then-New Jersey Nets decided they didn't have enough of. So Favors was brought to Utah in the Deron Williams trade.
Favors was stung by that trade, and to this day plays with a chip because of it. He felt discarded, unwanted at a young age, and was stung by the criticism of him needing development.
The result today is a Favors with an offensive game that's becoming more well-rounded by the year. He has a consistent jumper. He's effective with his back to the basket. He's always been great rebounding the ball for points and he's becoming a better passer.
"He's really worked on his game," Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. "I think he worked hard this summer. Like any player, the NBA is a lot of basketball. If you practice hard and practice with precision, you're going to get better. Derrick's practice habits have really improved, and as a result, you see it reflect in games."
For Favors, the progression is real. In a win over the Atlanta Hawks last Sunday, he hit what proved to be the game-winning jumper with under a minute remaining. In Wednesday's win over the Toronto Raptors, Favors took over in the last five minutes. He has increased his scoring in every season of his career. His rebounding is at a career-high pace. His player efficiency rating (PER) is one of the highest at his position.
At 24, Favors believes he has more room for improvement. But above all, he wants to win. In his sixth NBA season, that's all he wants.
"I think it's just been a matter of time," Jazz forward Gordon Hayward said. "Derrick's expanded his game and he's a huge part of what we do offensively, and teams are going to have to start worrying about him. We need him to be there for us, because he's one of our leaders. This is his sixth year, and he's been great for us."
About Derrick Favors
• Leads the Jazz in scoring at 16 points per game. Is averaging 9.3 rebounds per game. Both averages are career-highs.
• Is in his sixth NBA season and has increased his scoring average every year in his career.
• Has been to the playoffs once in his career. He said now that he's a team leader, he wants to see success and making the playoffs this year is important.