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SALT LAKE CITY — During the 2014-15 Utah Jazz season, three players had breakout years.
Gordon Hayward improved his coring average to nearly 20 points per game while adding nearly five rebounds and four assists. He earned his title as one of the NBA's most versatile players.
Rudy Gobert jumped onto this scene in his sophomore season as one of the true rim protectors in the NBA. Leading a historically good defense in the second half of the year, Gobert looked like a shoo-in for future Defensive Player of the Year awards, and caught the national spotlight.
Meanwhile, Derrick Favors improved incrementally, but somewhat under the radar. He improved his scoring from 13.3 points in 2013-14 to 16 points in 2014-15, but wasn't regarded as a go-to scoring option with Hayward on the court. And he wasn't thought to be the best defensive player with Gobert recording gaudy blocked shot numbers.
This year however, Favors may finally be getting his due.
While Favors is still the Jazz's second leading scorer, at just over 16 points per game, and does trail Gobert in blocks per game, Favors is making his mark on the league statistically.
Entering Monday night's game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Favors was in the top 20 in the league in 2-point field goals made, steals, field goal percentage, rebounds per game, steals per game, blocks per game, steal percentage, defensive rating, defensive win shares, win shares, win shares per 48 minutes, box score plus/minus, defensive box score plus/minus, and maybe most importantly, player efficiency rating.
The player efficiency rating, or PER, is an attempt to measure a player's overall statistical efficiency, but tends to value offensive players more heavily than defensive players.
For Favors, easily the Jazz's most versatile defensive player, able to guard both big men and guards when he's switched on to them, to be in the league's top 10 in PER is a testament to his overall improving talent.
Hayward's numbers are down from last season, seeing a dip in his points per game, assists per game, steals and blocks per game, free-throw attempts and field goal, 3-point and free-throw percentages, despite seeing an increase in minutes played. The only category that has seen an improvement in Hayward's game is in rebounds, where he is up 1/10th of a rebound per game.
The Jazz need Hayward to play better, most notably shooting the ball. In losses this year, Hayward shoots a miserable 22 percent from the 3-point line, in wins, he's shooting over 37 percent.
Could Favors make an All-Star team?
While Favors certainly doesn't have the biggest name among Western Conference power forwards, he's making a compelling statistical argument.
In the West, he's the fifth leading scorer at his position, third in rebounds, fourth in field goal percentage, first in steals, third in blocks and fifth in double-doubles. The only other players to find their names alongside Favors so frequently are DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, LaMarcus Aldridge and Blake Griffin, all considered among the league's elite players.
Unfortunately for Favors, his likelihood of making an All-Star appearance hinges on the Jazz record during the selection process. If the Jazz are poised for a playoff berth, expect Favors to get a nod. If they are on the outside of the West's top eight teams, expect the Jazz to get left out again.
Through 13 games, Favors has been unquestionably the Jazz's best player. Offensively and defensively, Favors' consistency has allowed the Jazz to hover around .500.
More problematic however, has been that Favors' emergence appears largely due to the drop in play from Hayward.
If Hayward finds his groove from last season, and Favors continues to be the statistical juggernaut we've seen through the early stretch in the season, the Jazz should find themselves in the postseason. If not, Favors may find himself in the unenviable position of being the best player on a not very good team.