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Derrick Favors is a star at a bargain

Derrick Favors is a star at a bargain

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SALT LAKE CITY — At the franchise level in the NBA, accumulation and management of assets is the name of the game.

For smaller markets in particular, those with less appeal to marquee free agents, it’s of paramount importance to stock players who exceed their contract value with their on-court play. This is part of why draft picks and their accompanying miniscule rookie-scale salaries have become more coveted assets in recent years, but it extends beyond younger players as well. A team that can nab a few guys who play well above their compensation level opens up avenues for additional talent elsewhere, and this sort of cascading effect can make all the difference in a highly competitive league.

In Derrick Favors, the Jazz have perhaps the most valuable of these sorts of players — one who plays at something approximating a star level, but does so at a well-below-market deal, one that only kicked in this previous season.

A few numbers first to help quantify Favors’ performance relative to the rest of the league. For PER — player efficiency rating, a broad snapshot of a player’s statistical impact while on the floor — Favors ranked 14th in the NBA, in the vicinity of star big men like LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin and Marc Gasol. This particular metric doesn’t capture much of a given player’s defensive impact, making Favors’ showing here all the more impressive given his prowess on that end of the floor as well.

Favors made several large improvements in the 2014-15 season, and the numbers help us quantify these as well. His usage percentage — a measure of Jazz possession that Favors himself used while on the court — rose from 20.8 percent last year to 23.8 percent this year, a sizable gap. For him to do so while raising his overall efficiency, as noted above, is a real boon.

He’s also quickly becoming the sort of multi-talented offensive piece that’s in high demand in today’s NBA. Favors couldn’t shoot a lick upon entering the league as a teenager, limiting both the individual effect he could have on the game and the cumulative success any team employing him could expect given his limited skill set. But Favors went to work last summer on his jumper, and came back to post far and away his most effective season from the 10-16 foot range and the 16-plus foot range, the longer “midrange” areas that are so vital for big men in a league that emphasizes shooting at as many positions as possible.

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No longer can defenders sag away from Favors and clog things up for other Jazz players. His ability to sink the jumper is keeping teams honest, and this was a big part of the Jazz managing nearly a league average per-possession offense on the year despite being the youngest team in the NBA and a steady rotation of rookies and D-League players in and out of the lineup. His shooting will become an even larger deal as the Jazz attempt to storm back into the playoffs next year, particularly alongside frontcourt partner Rudy Gobert, who remains limited offensively himself.

All of this is great, but it becomes far more so when considering Favors’ contract, both in the present and with an eye to the future. Favors is locked up for the next three full seasons at under $12 million per year, and there’s basically no question among knowledgeable NBA folks that he’s already more valuable than this figure currently.

But where the deal really starts to shine for the Jazz is when one considers the massive increases coming in the NBA’s salary cap starting next summer. Due to new TV money flooding into the league, a team salary cap that sat at roughly $63 million for this past season is projected to leap all the way to $89 million for the 2016-17 season, and then again to a whopping $108 million for the following year. But despite these jumps, easily the largest in the history of the league, Favors’ salary number remains the same since it was signed before the increases.

This is just huge for a smaller-market franchise like the Jazz. Favors' deal represented roughly 20 percent of Utah’s total cap allowance this previous season, but by the 2016-17 year, it will represent just over 12 percent of their allotment. That number drops to just below 11 percent the following season, making his deal in that season the rough equivalent of just a $7 million contract this previous season — an amount many role-players and sub-average players command.

The team’s contract situation is just another on a long list of reasons to be excited for the Jazz going forward. They have Gobert in a similar situation after his breakout sophomore season, with two more years remaining on his uber-cheap rookie deal, one he’s already well exceeding with his play. If the Jazz continue their on-court developmental pace and are able to keep their financial situation as tidy as it appears currently, this could be a true title contender for years to come.

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Ben Dowsett

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