The Case for Derrick Favors and Making a Big Splash in the Draft

I admit that I hadn't seen much of Derrick Favors earlier in the season, and when I had seen him, quite frankly I was not overly impressed.  I have been impressed with DeMarcus Cousins every game that I have seen him play, and his stats and body make it easy to envision him on the Nets next season.   Obviously PF is our biggest area of need, and adding a big body to anchor that front line with Brook Lopez for the next 10 years is an intriguing possibility. 


For the majority of the year I have been in the camp of adding either John Wall or Evan Turner to our backcourt as they have both been dominant throughout their college season, and are widely regarded (rightly so) as the top 2 picks come June.  John Wall could very well be the second coming of Derrick Rose while Evan Turner could very well be the next super versatile NBA shooting guard in the mold of Brandon Roy.  When rebuilding a franchise, its very difficult to not want to add those pieces to your team.  And what makes the John Wall question even more difficult is his ties to Lebron James, which could play a role in Lebron selecting his next team. 


Yet, I have begun to change my mind about this over the past 6 weeks.  Its not that either John Wall or Evan Turner have been playing badly, it’s the emergence of Terrence Williams.  Terrence looks like he is ultimately going to develop into an uber versatile NBA point guard, with the skill set to play on the floor with two traditional guards (as he has been doing quite often over the past month as he has handled the ball and directed the offense when on the floor with a combination of Devin, Courtney, Keyon and CDR). 


Essentially this comes back to the conundrum of NBA GMs everywhere – do you draft best player available or draft for the biggest need on your team? When your team is on the verge of setting the record for fewest wins ever – it seems that drafting best player available is a no brainer and this discussion should come to an end.  Yet when you consider the core of this team, outside of Brook Lopez, this is a very guard heavy team with an All Star Point Guard in place in Devin Harris, an emerging Courtney Lee and Terrence Williams and CDR who has the potential to be a very good 6th or 7th man off the bench to provide instant offense.  This seems to suggest that outside of injuries to key players and a young team, our record is more indicative of the lack of options in the front court, suggesting it makes the most sense to address the forward positions in the upcoming draft. 


We are guaranteed to have a top 4 pick, a pick in the mid to late 20s and then the 31st pick in the draft.  I fully expect that if we do select either Turner or Wall with that top 4 pick, we are certain to add a PF and potentially a SF with the remaining 2 picks. 


The question becomes what to do if we end up with the 3rd pick in the draft.  DeMarcus Cousins is the popular choice with this pick – as we have all seen his NBA ready body, his nightly double doubles, and the way that he simply steamrolls opponents.  The red flags raised from his issues with conditioning, mental makeup, etc simply do not  show up in the nightly boxscores, making it easy to overlook, and conversely to anoint him as the third pick. 


I initially was in the Cousins camp, but as I have learned more and more about his issues with conditioning, and heard of questions about whats upstairs I have started to watch more and more of Derrick Favors. 


Derrick checks out background wise as one of the nicest guys in college basketball, a guy unaffected by stardom, who prefers rebounding and playing defense rather than scoring – if that is what it takes to win.  On paper this clearly seems like a guy who would be a good fit on any team, particularly a young team like the Nets where the majority of the offense is going to revolve around Brook Lopez and Devin Harris.  While this seems like a minor thing, you do not want to use a high draft pick on a big man who NEEDS the ball in the paint and NEEDS to score to keep him interested and competitive. 


When physically comparing Favors and Cousins the NBA equivalent would be comparing Amare and Shaq.  These guys have very different bodies, whereas Favors is leaner and more athletic, while Cousins is a big body bruiser who simply overpowers people.  The problem with making the Shaq comparison is that aside from Shaq there have been very few people with his body type who have been able to have continued success, as weight issues and injuries typically derail these body types from having sustained NBA careers.  This becomes even more of an issue when you consider that at 18 and 19 years old, Cousins has already battled weight issues and questions about his conditioning.  As many of you will agree, its much harder to stay in shape after college than it is beforehand.  Combine that with the amount of free time and the money that an NBA lifestyle provides, and you have to worry about his conditioning.  The other concern that you have to recognize with Cousins is that the ability to overpower 19 year old boys at the collegiate level is a lot different than being able to simply overpower 26 year old men at the NBA level.  Will that physical style of bruising play translate as well to the NBA when you are facing bigger stronger players on a nightly basis than many of the collegiate bigs who are still physically developing? 


Watching Georgia Tech last night against UNC in the first round of the ACC Tournament, two significant differences immediately stand out:

1)       Georgia Tech does not have very good guard play.  Their backcourt has trouble consistently hitting the open man in the paint and are slow in recognizing when their bigs get position.  The GT guards are also not major threats offensively, so it allows defenses to sag in the paint – further limiting the area that Favors has to operate.  Contrast this with the guard play at Kentucky – where they are led by the great John Wall and another lottery pick in Eric Bledsoe.  Both of these guys are advanced passers, who are very good at quickly locating the open man and delivering him the ball.  One of Wall’s greatest strengths is as a passer at this stage of his career.  And Wall and Bledsoe are both threats to score either from the perimeter or by penetrating, causing the defense to constantly play them tight on the perimeter. 

2)       Derrick Favors is not the only big man in the paint for Georgia Tech.  Gani Lawal is a blue collar type of PF who is constantly battling for position in the paint.  While Cousins shares the paint with Patrick Patterson, Patterson has the ability to play more on the high block or even outside of the paint.  So Favors is typically working more in tight quarters than Cousins. 


These are two significant things to take into account when comparing the numbers of Cousins and Favors.  I think the guard play is the most significant factor – and I’m not sure that if Favors and Cousins were to switch teams, that Cousins would even be in the discussion for the third pick.  I think Favors offensive production would be significantly higher with stronger guard play. 


Whats interesting is that even with the difference in guard play Cousins is only averaging 3.5 points more per game than Favors (at 15.6 vs 12.1) while shooting at a much lower percentage (.538 vs .613).  This is interesting as Cousins spends virtually all of his time within 5 feet of the basket, while Favors will come out and shoot the 15-18 foot jumper from time to time.  Favors has good form and lift on his jumper, and has made considerable progress from the start of the season.  Its not hard to imagine that his jumper will continue to improve throughout his NBA career. 


Defensively both Favors and Cousins have similar statistics with Favors averaging 8.4 boards and 2.1 blocks per game vs 10.1 boards and 1.8 blocks per game for Cousins.  These are impressive numbers for any NCAA freshman to post in two strong conferences. 


What excites me about Favors though, is his ability to explode off of the floor.  His athleticism is far superior to that of Cousins and he is much better at getting down the floor than Cousins.  This is a big factor on a team like the Nets where they are often times most successful in transition. 


Favors also possesses very good footwork in the paint, and consistently establishes a strong base and then possesses quick strong moves once he gets the ball in the paint.  He has the ability to go both right and left once he gets the ball and has a nice up and under move and the ability to go strong to the hoop.  His explosiveness will directly translate to the NBA game.  This footwork is also evident on the defensive end where he is continually battling for defensive position and then has the foot speed to quickly disengage and get off the floor to alter/block shots or battle for rebounds. 


I am interested to see how both Favors and Cousins perform in the NCAA Tournament, even though Cousins is more likely to get deep into the tournament than Favors is.  Yet the more I compare the collegiate games of Favors and Cousins, along with their body type, skill set and characters, I have become firmly entrenched within the Favors camp. 


To be perfectly honest, I agree with fellow poster M I K E that big men are more valuable than skilled guards as they are much more rare. 


When building a team to make a run at a championship, I believe that interior play and defense is what wins championships.   Building a team from scratch, I would always prefer to build around a skilled big man and surround him with defensive minded teammates who can make outside jumpshots to prevent defenses from sagging in the paint.  The Nets are one of the few NBA teams that have a legitimate franchise center to build around.  Having the ability to add an athletic power forward to team with Brook, to provide rebounding, shot blocking and interior defense is not a luxury but a necessity.  This team is not going to be competitive until we fill the PF position.  Favors becomes even more desirable when you consider that he is not the type of PF who will demand the ball – but will be able to get points on put backs and garbage buckets, while having the ability to take his man outside and hit a 15 foot jumper.  Combine this with Brook’s outside shooting touch and the high-low and pick and pop type plays that can be drawn up for Brook and Derrick will give most teams fits in covering.  Especially since Derrick possesses game changing athleticism and strength the outside PFs who have replaced the physical PFs of the past will have major difficulties battling Favors down low for positioning.  Picture Yi covering Amare.  Not a pretty picture. 


While I am not necessarily sure that I would draft Favors with the first or second pick, it becomes a no brainer with the third pick – and can easily be argued with the first or the second pick.  Or even better, it could make more sense to trade out of the 1st or 2nd pick to a team picking behind us who values Wall or Turner – allowing them to pick Wall or Turner and giving us their second round pick for us moving back 1 or 2 spots. 


With Brooklyn finally a reality, and a new billionaire owner taking control before the draft – if he really wanted to make a splash (considering we end up with a top 2 pick) I would do the following:

·          Select Wall or Turner with our top 2 pick (I honestly prefer Turner’s game for our system than Wall)

·          Offer a package to the team picking third to acquire their pick of Yi, the Dallas first round pick, the Warriors protected pick and our 2011 2nd round pick.  I am not sure that this is enough to get that 3rd pick – and will obviously depend on which team ends up with the 3rd pick.  But with many owners experiencing financial difficulties, the ability to save money on the contract of a top 3 pick while acquiring draft picks (which are assets rather than liabilities) could be appealing.  This is even more true in the case of a team like Utah, where the owner is having financial difficulties and they are committed to Paul Millsap at the PF position for the future. 

·          Keep our 2010 2nd round pick as the 31st pick is essentially adding a first round talent who dropped but being able to structure a team friendly contract with team options rather than guaranteed years and money.  This is a perfect pick to find bench depth, with some intriguing players like Sherron Collins, Damion James, and Gani Lawal likely available. 


Making this type of splash in the draft also has two major effects for us in free agency.  It eliminates the need for us to overpay for a second or third tier free agent in July – as we will have added 2 lottery picks who could be expected to step in and start for us from day 1 while also improving our bench.  And this roster transformation before free agency even begins makes the record from this season almost irrelevant for a free agent (Lebron?) considering a franchise that is poised to make a run at multiple championships. 


A core of Harris, Wall/Turner, TWill, Favors and Lopez with Lee, CDR, Humphries, Boone (I would bring him back in a heartbeat as a front court depth), and our 2nd round pick is a very attractive foundation to build around, and will make any free agent seriously looking for the chance to win take a very long look at this franchise.  Does anyone believe that Cleveland’s core is better than this core – next year or four years from now?  And the Knicks can’t even be in the discussion.


And for those of you still in love with DeMarcus Cousins – think of the plight of Michael Beasley in the NBA.  He had character issues raised before the draft and has spent time in rehab facilities and found himself most recently on the trading block.  If Pat Riley had a do over – do you sincerely believe he would have taken Beasley over Brook?  Had he taken Brook instead, he would not be losing sleep at night over the process of Dwayne Wade leaving this summer……

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