28. Derrick Favors, PF, Jazz
The Jazz are zigging where a lot of teams are zagging, and Derrick Favors’s comprehensive two-way game makes it all possible. With so many teams hoping to play smaller and faster, the 25-year-old Favors makes for a nightly mismatch. His strength, honed scoring ability and motor are tough to handle for perimeter-oriented fours, as he can pound the glass on both ends and work his way to high-percentage shots against undersized defenders. At the same time, Favors (16.4 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 1.5 BPG) moves well defensively for a man of his size, meaning he can be played for stretches alongside a true center without being exposed. As a result, the Jazz can trot out traditional lineups featuring Favors and Rudy Gobert that control the tempo, force lots of tough and contested looks, dominate the glass and suck the life out of the opposition. But, wait, there’s more: Favors can also shift up to play center, giving coach Quin Snyder a strong backline defender at his disposal for all 48 minutes. This year, Utah should be able to downshift into spread looks more easily thanks to the additions of Boris Diaw and Joe Johnson, plus growth from Trey Lyles. With extra space, Favors should be in even better position to operate one-on-one in the paint against overmatched defenders. If Utah takes a step forward in the standings, as expected, it will be fascinating to see how the rest of the West will handle matchups with Favors in the postseason. Do you stay big in hopes of neutralizing him, thereby going along with Utah’s preferred style? Or, do you try to go small in hopes of playing him or Gobert off the court while running the risk that he might pound you into submission? (Last year: No. 37)
+ One of just eight players to average at least one steal and one block last season, he graded out well defensively by the major advanced metrics and can comfortably handle both fours and fives
+ His physicality and skill make him hard to stop when he works up a head of steam going to the hoop, whether he’s making decisive moves from the post, crashing the offensive glass, cutting hard to the basket off the ball, or rolling with purpose in the two-man game
– He missed a career-high 20 games last season, including an extended stretch due to a back injury
– He forms a beastly pairing with Rudy Gobert on the defensive end, but he needs to continue to improve his shooting if the Jazz are going to find enough offensive spacing with that duo.