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SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Jazz are on a strange push toward the playoffs. After struggling to beat the top teams in the NBA for much of the season, the Jazz went on a tear beating the Los Angeles Clippers, the Denver Nuggets and the Milwaukee Bucks in three straight games.
What did they do with that momentum?
The Jazz went 1-2 in their next three games, splitting back-to-back contests with the New Orleans Pelicans and then a loss on the road to the lowly Memphis Grizzlies. It's safe to say, nobody can predict what the Jazz will do this postseason, much less where they’ll finish in the Western Conference standings.
Despite the ups and downs, the Jazz have found a recent uptick in consistency from an unlikely source: Derrick Favors.
Heading into Monday night’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Favors was averaging 14.9 points per game, nine rebounds and two blocks per game over his last 10 outings. That includes three games where he has scored more than 20 points and five double-doubles.
Three of his four highest-scoring outputs of the season came during that stretch, including his 18 rebounds against Milwaukee to tie his career high. That's an elite level of depth for the Jazz with Favors backing up an already elite player in Rudy Gobert.
Favors' recent surge has presented the Jazz with a unique situation coming up this summer. He has a nonguaranteed contract for the 2019-20 season until July 6, meaning the Jazz will have to make a big decision about how to use their longest-tenured played on the roster by the first week of July.
At this point, it’s a good problem to have.
Favors isn’t the prototypical modern power forward. He doesn’t spread the floor, he’s an average passer and doesn’t do much in the way of playmaking. He’s a screen-and-roll big man — very much in the same mold as Gobert.
While the Jazz may benefit more from a player that can spread the floor with their shooting, Favors allows the Jazz to have an elite pick-and-roll player on the floor at all times throughout a game. Oftentimes in the fourth quarter of games this year, the Jazz have relied on long stretches of Joe Ingles and Favors in a two-man game to carry the offensive load.
Should Gobert go down for any extended stretch, Favors is a better-than-average starter at center.
Favors has also played a crucial role in each of the last two postseason runs for the Jazz. In 2017, when the Jazz lost Gobert to injury in the first postseason game against the Clippers, Favors stepped in against former All-Star DeAndre Jordan and helped the Jazz to a 4-3 series victory. Favors scored double digits in three of the Jazz's four victories.
Last season against the Thunder, Favors provided a spark for the Jazz and recorded double-digit scoring outings in five of the six first-round games. That included 20 points and 16 rebounds in a Game 2 road win, giving the Jazz home-court advantage for the rest of the series.
Come July, the Jazz could simply choose to keep Favors on the roster and let him play out the final year of his contract in hopes his level of play will hover at his current level. Or the Jazz could choose to waive Favors and open up his $16.9 million cap space and use that toward a free agent, should a high-profile name show a willingness to sign in Utah.
Favors could also become a valuable trade piece this offseason should the Jazz once again revisit a trade for a premiere player like they did with Mike Conley at the trade deadline. At nearly $17 million and just one year remaining to his contract, Favors becomes an easy player for an opposing team to take on for a season. At the very least, he should provide value to that team beyond simply being an expiring contract.
Favors has experienced a recent resurgence with the Jazz and should give them pause this summer when deciding how best to handle his contract. But should he be retained, waived to sign another big money player or used as the main cog in a trade piece, Favors has become a good problem for the Jazz to have. Ben Anderson is a contributor at KSL.com, follow him on Twitter @BensHoops. Listen to him 2-6, Monday through Friday with Kyle Gunther on ESPN 700.