Derrick Favors was named the ACC’s rookie of the year Tuesday. The shock would have been if he hadn’t been named the ACC’s rookie of the year. He’s a big-time talent who has had big-time moments and a few big-time games.
But if you’re thinking that might not be enough for Favors next season, when he’ll surely be working in the NBA, think again. Because this one collegiate season has been a red herring. We’ve gotten to see a lot of what Favors can’t yet do. Soon we’ll see what he can do.
Some will interpret this as a swipe at Favors’ college coach. It really isn’t. Favors happened to sign with a school that had an approximation of Derrick Favors. Had Gani Lawal remained in the 2009 NBA draft — he withdrew his name before the deadline — we’d be seeing Favors through different eyes. We’d see him as a guy who plays with his back to the basket and overmatches defenders, as opposed to a guy who stands in the foul circle and tries to figure out what next to do.
Favors scored 18 points against Virginia Tech on Saturday; he took seven shots. He and Lawal have had to share the ball in the post, and there hasn’t been much to share. Three Tech guards have played the point on a collegiate level, but not one is a real distributor. It’s human nature for big men to grow frustrated when they don’t see the ball, and Favors and Lawal are human.
The way to defuse a college big man (or big men) is to zone it up. Zones are allowed in the NBA, but no team plays one as its base defense. For those who believe Favors will struggle at power forward in the league, where he’ll be asked do to more of what he hasn’t done all that well as a Jacket, remember this: The NBA is predicated on matchups. Even at age 19 — he’s 18 as we speak — Favors will be a load for any opponent.
Stand next to Favors and Lawal and you’ll see why the former is the more promising professional. Lawal has grown bigger and stronger in his three seasons as a collegian, but Favors was big and strong when he walked in the door. You see Lawal and you think, “He’s tall.” You see Favors and you think, “He’s big.”
Some of you have suggested Favors should return to school because he hasn’t had a huge statistical season — he has averaged 11.9 points and 8.4 rebounds, numbers that pale alongside those posted by fellow freshman big man DeMarcus Cousins — but the NBA doesn’t draft on college production. It drafts on body type and potential, and Favors has both.
(Speaking of the Kentucky big man: The difference between Favors and Cousins as freshmen is that Big Cuz, as he’s known, is playing the position he did in high school, and Big Cuz has a little cuz in the great point guard John Wall. Favors wasn’t as lucky on either front.)
There have been times this year when I’ve wondered, “Is Favors another Tyrus Thomas?” The freshman star of the 2006 NCAA tournament for LSU, Thomas was drafted fourth overall by Chicago that summer and has since done nothing of consequence. Last month the exasperated Bulls traded him to Charlotte. But the harder I look, I see more differences than similarities.
Favors is stronger than Thomas and more skilled. Thomas couldn’t do much except run and dunk in college. Favors can handle the ball better and shoot it with more assurance. If he lands with the right NBA team — and not every team is the right team — he could become, as NBAdraft.net suggests, a tantalizing amalgam of Josh Smith and Al Horford.
My one question about Favors is temperament. He doesn’t follow basketball very closely — he admitted Tuesday he has never viewed an ACC tournament game — and he’s a lower-key than you’d like if you’re an NBA team looking to invest a few million.
But pro careers aren’t made on draft night; they’re made by guys who get drafted and take it from there. Karl Malone was picked 13th overall and became a Hall of Famer. Tyrus Thomas, drafted nine spots higher 21 years later, doesn’t start for the Bobcats. What has happened, and hasn’t happened, this season at Tech wasn’t all Derrick Favors’ doing. What happens, or doesn’t happen, in the NBA will be entirely on him.