Tim Duncan and David Robinson. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy. Hakeem Olajuwan and Ralph Sampson. Kevin McHale and Robert Parrish. Patrick Ewing and Charles Oakley. Throughout NBA history there have been many examples of dominant big duos. If your 2 players were a twin tower combo, then you were well on your way to NBA title contention.
That’s not the case in the modern NBA. Now we are in an era of spacing and 3 point shooting. Having two traditional big men creates difficult defensive matchups. Scoring efficiently can also be a challenge with two guys trying to fill the same role and space.
Nonetheless, the Utah Jazz have resisted that trend by sticking with their starting frontcourt of Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors for the 4th year running. This duo has helped bring Utah from the league bottom-feeders to the second round of the playoffs two years straight, but how much longer will that success continue? Should they be considering a different long-term option?
The Jazz are off to a slow start in 2018-19 and the starters aren’t doing themselves any favors. The best defense in the NBA just one year ago is struggling to get stops. The offense that was so improved has digressed well below expectations. Utah got off to a similarly slow start last year and was able to turn it around, but this year feels a little different. I don’t see lightning striking twice in Salt Lake City.
One of the bigger questions for Utah right now is if Quin Snyder should continue trotting out the same starting lineup. Unsurprisingly, the obvious changes to consider are replacing Ricky Rubio or Derrick Favors. That begs the question:
How is the Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors combo working this year?
First, let’s start off by looking at their talent grades.
If you ask me, that’s just way too much talent overlap for 2 out of the 5 players on the court. As a result, Utah’s starting lineup performance has left a lot to be desired. When Rudy and Derrick are playing with the other starters, the Jazz have an offensive rating of 100.4 and a defensive rating of 100. Substitute Derrick Favors for Jae Crowder in that same lineup and the net rating goes from 0.4 to 10.6. That’s a ridiculous difference for swapping just one player. Most of that is coming from the jump in offensive rating up to 113.4. For example, with Favors in the starting lineup the Jazz true shooting percentage is 54.9. Put Crowder with the starting five, however, and that increases to 60.3%.
Rudy Gobert looks better individually as well. Because Crowder is more of a shooting threat than Favors, Gobert has more room to work with inside and as the roll man. Looking at his statistics with Favors on the floor vs off is quite telling:
When Rudy gets the middle all to himself, he’s incredibly efficient on offense. He’s a weapon as a screener and roll man that has to be respected. For instance, he’s nearly 73% from the field when Favors is on the bench, which is ridiculous. Notice how many more looks he gets at the rim as well? This really opens up the offense for everyone else, something that can’t be as confidently said when Rudy and Derrick are both on the court.
With Favors, and Ricky Rubio for that matter, no one has room to work with and it often turns into the Donovan Mitchell show. As good as the sophomore guard is, he can’t carry the load by himself. And he shouldn’t have to. A simple change to the starting 5 could get the Jazz off to significantly better starts than they’ve had so far this year.
Should the Utah Jazz make a change?
It’s important to note that I do not mean Derrick Favors isn’t a good NBA player. He absolutely is. Utah likely doesn’t make it past the first round of the playoffs the last two postseasons without Favors on the roster. What I do mean is that this might finally be the year where the Jazz have to make the difficult decision of breaking this traditional frontcourt up. This could be done by staggering the minutes of Gobert and Favors, or by moving on from one of the two players. Given their talent levels and salary commitments, the more logical decision is to trade one and build around the other. Rudy is the obvious choice and quite frankly deserves to be surrounded by more compatible players.
Don’t get me wrong. I love Derrick Favors as a player. I’ve loved having him on the Jazz for the past 9 seasons. It pains me to even suggest moving on from him. I firmly believe he can be a fantastic NBA player in the right situation. Unfortunately, I just don’t think that situation is Salt Lake City. He deserves the opportunity to have his talents better utilized, playing only 23 minutes a game so far this season. Also, if the first 16 games are any indication for how this season will go, the Utah Jazz need to make some changes as well. General manager Dennis Lindsay preached continuity during the offseason, deservedly wanting to see what he had in this team after their finish to last season. I don’t believe things are going as well as planned. I’d suggest looking at the power forward position as a place start.