The Jazz invested heavily in Derrick Favors from the very start. The former No. 3 overall pick highlighted the package Utah received from the Nets for star point guard Deron Williams, so if then-GM Kevin O'Connor's surprise gambit at the 2011 trade deadline was going to work, Favors had to deliver. The Jazz have since bumped O'Connor up to executive VP of basketball operations, and he and new GM Dennis Lindsey executed a roster overhaul this summer that will give the team its first look at Favors as a full-time starter. Still, Favors and the Jazz have a major decision to make before the 22-year-old can take his place in the spotlight.
It's poor timing for both team and player that Favors has become eligible for an extension to his rookie-scale contract when he's yet to average as many as 24 minutes per game in any season. Utah doesn't get the chance to see whether Favors can handle being the team's first or second option on offense, and Favors hasn't had the opportunity to show what he can do in a marquee role. The Jazz could have at least afforded themselves a look at Favors as a starter for a couple of months if they had traded either Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap or both at the trade deadline. Yet if they had done that, they probably couldn't have wound up with two future first-round picks, as they did when they used cap space to absorb a couple of Golden State's regrettable contracts this summer. It's another example of the team's strategy of sacrificing the present for the future.
The decision whether to extend Favors will nonetheless have long-term consequences. As Luke Adams of Hoops Rumors explained this week, rookie-scale extensions often turn out to be bargains compared to the deals that restricted free agents get. Favors is likely to get a deal for four or five years either this summer or next, so inflated annual salaries could wind up costing the Jazz for years to come.
O'Connor and Lindsey could propose an extension similar to the four-year, $32MM deal that the Bulls gave Taj Gibson, another player who had primarily come off the bench, but Favors' reps at Perennial Sports & Entertainment would balk at that, since their client has much greater potential. The Favors camp may propose an arrangement closer to the roughly $49MM that Serge Ibaka is getting from the Thunder, but that figure is just as likely to elicit a "no" from the team.
I predicted in March that Favors and the Jazz would strike a deal worth $48MM for four years, and while that seems a little high now, especially since that's the kind of money Larry Sanders just got from the Bucks, I still think it's closer to reality than an extension similar to Gibson's would be. The case of Sanders is somewhat instructive here. He, like Favors, didn't see much playing time in his first two seasons in the league, but he blossomed into a Defensive Player of the Year candidate with starter's minutes last season. It's reasonable to expect that Favors is poised for a breakout, too. He's recorded a PER of 17.3 in his two full seasons with Utah, and in the same timeframe, he's displayed a knack for rebounding, grabbing 11.1 boards per 36 minutes.
The major question mark for Favors is his offense. He shot just 48.3% last season despite the majority of his attempts last season coming at the rim. That's largely because of his putrid 29.0% shooting from three feet and out, as Basketball-Reference shows. That's a mark that will have to get much better if he is to thrive in Utah's beloved pick-and-roll. His shooting percentage ticked up slightly with more a few more minutes and shot attempts per game after the All-Star break, but more drastic improvement is necessary.
There's no such concern on the defensive end of the floor. According to HoopData.com, Favors' blocks, steals and charges drawn per game add up to 2.53, a figure equivalent to the total posted by All-Defensive Second Team selection Paul George, who saw more than 15 extra minutes of playing time per night. Favors used his 7'4" wingspan to block 1.7 shots per game last season, good enough for 13th in the league despite his limited minutes.
So, it's not as if Favors doesn't have an NBA track record. He'll encounter something new this year in Utah, where instead of a contender for a playoff spot, the Jazz are set to field a team that will struggle to win 25 games. Defenses will pack the paint with Favors on the floor, and without much in the way of scoring talent around him, baskets will be hard to come by. Favors may never again play on a team that surrounds him with so little in the way of talent and experience, so this season might not provide the most accurate glimpse of his potential. That's why I think the Jazz and Favors might be best served to do a four-year extension for between $42MM and $44MM. Utah could wind up with a budding defensive stalwart and rebounder extraordinaire on the cheap, while Favors gets an eight-figure salary despite never having averaged 10 points per game. The most significant risk would be on Utah's side, but as the Nuggets showed when they re-signed Nene and quickly swapped his five-year, $65MM deal for JaVale McGee's expiring contract in 2012, there's almost always a team willing to take on a promising big man, no matter the price.