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Utah Jazz: ‘Team cornerstone’ suits Derrick Favors just fine

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(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz forward Derrick Favors (15), as the Utah Jazz host the Oklahoma City Thunder, NBA Basketball at EnergySolutions Arena in Salt Lake City, Wednesday October 30, 2013.

By Aaron Falk

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Jan 04 2014 12:32PM
Updated Mar 24, 2014 11:31PM

As he removes the wrap around his back or cuts through the athletic tape around his ankles after games, Derrick Favors won’t say much about it, but his teammates understand.

"He’s tired," forward Richard Jefferson says with the knowing smile of a veteran who has been through the grueling grind of an NBA season 12 times before. "He’s a four-man that’s playing against fives. … He’s playing such big minutes and banging all the time."

These are the aches and pains of privilege.

After spending the first three seasons of his career mostly coming off the bench, backing up Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, Favors has been given a chance to become a franchise cornerstone.

Aside from rookie point guard Trey Burke, Favors is the only member of the Utah Jazz’s youth movement locked up long-term, having been signed to a four-year, multi-million dollar extension earlier this season.

At the time, the deal looked to be a leap of faith by the Jazz. There were questions from the outside about Favors’ offensive development, his intensity, his ability to be a high-level starter.

On his best nights, Favors has made it look like a steal for the Jazz. And his worst nights have been further apart. He’s averaging 13.5 points, 9 rebounds and 1.4 blocks a night. By his own assessment, he has transformed this year from an athlete into a basketball player.

The Georgia Tech product’s growth hasn’t surprised his coach.

"He’s such a competitor," Jazz coach Ty Corbin said. "He wants to get better every night out. … Does his success surprise me? No. Actually, I’m expecting more from him."

Favors spent the first half of his rookie season in New Jersey, his name constantly attached to trade rumors before he was finally dealt to Utah as part of a package for Deron Williams. The new contract has made a difference for Favors, who has bought a home in Salt Lake City and no longer hears his name attached to trade rumors.

"Especially [compared to] how I was at the beginning of my career, I just feel comfortable," he said. "I feel like I’m wanted here. It helped my game out a lot."

Part of that comfort level has come with extra time on the court. He’s averaging 31.5 minutes a night — eight more than his previous high.

"In the past, when I came in the game I was just trying to make things happen in a rush because I knew I didn’t have much time on the court," Favors said. "Now I know I’m going to be out there. I can take my time and let it come to me."

Understanding the opportunity in front of him, Favors spent the summer honing his offensive game. He spent the summer working with Karl Malone and USA Basketball.

"I challenged myself just to come out and be a better player," he said. "I know guys behind me like Rudy [Gobert], Jeremy [Evans], Enes [Kanter], they’re looking at the way I start the game off."

But it’s how Favors has played down the stretch in recent games that has garnered more attention.

"The first time you get to experience playing 30-plus minutes every night and going against the best bigs and running the offense, that’s a new experience," Jefferson said. "He’s done a great job and he’s getting better at it. You’ve seen the big plays he’s made for us late in games."

Last month in Orlando, Favors’ long arms altered Jameer Nelson’s would-be game-winner. Favors blocked Charlotte’s Ramon Sessions to help preserve a Jazz win. Against the Lakers in Salt Lake City last week, the Jazz big man’s late putback slam was the difference.

And against the Bucks, Favors scored seven of his 21 points in the last two minutes of a close ballgame.

"What he means to our team, you can’t really replace him," forward Marvin Williams said.

But Favors won’t say much about that, as with most things.

"D-Fav says probably as much as you guys say in the huddle," Williams told reporters. "I catch him saying things under his breath sometimes. No. He leads by example."

afalk@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribjazz

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