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SALT LAKE CITY — It was a special day for New Orleans head coach Alvin Gentry on Monday.
Derrick Favors spoke two words to him.
“I feel lucky because I think he said his 31st and 32nd words to me today,” Gentry said with a smirk and a laugh. “He’s a quiet guy. He’s the most low-maintenance guy I have ever coached in my life, really.”
There was a beam coming from Gentry; a beam that was recognizable. It’s the same one Favors' former Jazz teammates had when talking about him. The same one his former coach, Quin Snyder, had. The same one some Jazz fans have when reminiscing about his time in Utah.
“He just comes in and does his job and does it extremely well,” Gentry said. “All the guys on the team just got huge, huge respect for him because of his professionalism, and he’s just a really likable guy that does exactly what you ask him to do. We are very, very fortunate to have him.”
Favors is missed in Utah. There’s no doubt about that. From his on-court production to who he is as a person — fans loved him, his teammates respected him, his coaches probably wish they still had him.
“Derrick is like a brother,” Jazz center Rudy Gobert said.
And like a brother, there’s always going to be a closeness even if they don’t talk as much, or forget to call or text.
“I text every now and then,” Favors said.
So, about as much as he says words to his coach.
On Monday in New Orleans, Favors faced his former team for the first time, in a game that counted. He finished with 9 points, 10 rebounds and three blocked shots in very Favors-esque performance. He bullied inside for rebounds, made some great rolls to the hoops, and stopped guys at the rim.
Favors stuffs Gobert and BI ties it from deep!— New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) January 7, 2020
This place is E-LEC-TRIC pic.twitter.com/SsPkDoqj63
Favors’ familiarity with the Jazz paid off at times, like when he perfectly played a Gobert roll to the hoop that forced the Jazz center to take an errant shot.
But there were some surprises, too. Like, how did he get caught by Joe Ingles’ ball-fake move? Had he not seen him do that same thing for years to opposing centers? It’s a little different being on the other side.
Favors has been one of the Pelicans’ best players this season. He might not have the stats like teammate Brandon Ingram does, but when he’s been on the court New Orleans is a better team. The Pelicans score 3.6 more points per 100 possessions when Favors is on the court and give up 2.0 points less.
Favors is doing what he did with Utah: helping the team win and not caring about anything else. That’s why he left such a mark during his time with the Jazz, and why his new team has embraced him so quickly.
“He really has been a tremendous difference, when he’s on the floor and when he’s not on the floor,” Gentry said. “Our defense is great; it’s almost scary. What he has done for us, from the standpoint of being that controlling point on defense, has been unbelievable. He’s been able to get double-digit points for us, just the rebounding part also — 14 or 16 rebounds here. He’s been absolutely great for us.”
And that’s not a surprise to anyone who shared a locker room with Favors during his nine seasons in Utah.