Forward(s) from the South:
Favors, James Debut as Nets
By Ben Couch
June 29, 2010
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.—These are Southern boys the Nets added to the squad. At their press conference debut, No. 3 overall pick Derrick Favors (Atlanta) and No. 24 Damion James (Nacogdoches, Texas) proved terse and polite, preparing for the cold winter weather and cutting jokes in accents so distinct even a Yankee could differentiate them blindfolded. But their attitudes add an element missing from the Nets last season.
“One of the themes I am going to talk to our team about is two words: ‘erase’ and ‘replace,’” said Nets coach Avery Johnson. “We’re trying to erase a losing mentality and replace it with a winning mentality. We have erased some players and are going to replace them with players that are going to fit into our system. If you look at these two young men, the skillset that both of them have, the discipline that both of them have, the defensive tenacity, they both are very coachable. We are really excited about these two young men.”
Favors is more familiar to Nets fans; during the month-long draft process, the ACC’s Rookie of the Year was considered a favorite for the third selection once the Lottery was complete. But the trade for James (sending No. 27 Jordan Crawford and No. 31 Tibor Pleiss to Atlanta) came as a surprise – the Nets, thinking James would be selected in the late lottery, hadn’t worked out the Texas product and pounced when he slid.
The 6-foot-7, 227-pound James committed to Texas after being released from a commitment to Oklahoma after coach Kelvin Sampson left for Indiana. Earning a starting spot freshman year for his defense and rebounding, James improved his scoring each season under coach Rick Barnes. By the end of senior year, James was averaging 18.0 points and 10.3 rebounds while shooting an efficient .501 and holding the Big 12’s career all-time records for rebounds and double-doubles.
Barnes deployed James against defenders at multiple positions, due to a wingspan that reaches nearly 7-foot-2 and his willingness to dig in. That’s possible long-term at the NBA level, though he’ll likely slot in at small forward to start, occasionally playing the 4 in smaller lineups. James chafed at the thought of deciding where he felt most comfortable.
“Man, I don’t like when people ask me that question,” James said. “I’m just a basketball player. I’m not no ‘3’ or no ‘4.’ Coach (Johnson) said he plans on playing me in different spots, so I think that makes me more valuable as a player.”
James just wants to win, wherever he’s able to find playing time, and has already identified his ball-handling as the area of necessary improvement. Hoping that opens James’ offensive game, Johnson also discussed making James comfortable in post play before bringing it back to defense, envisioning the forward as a defensive stopper, shutting down opposing stars on the perimeter.
While James’ role seems to be well-defined, Favors’ could be much more volatile depending on how quickly the 6-foot-10 forward adapts to the NBA after turning 19 on July 15. Johnson explained that one of the first questions he and Nets President Rod Thorn had for Favors during interviews was why he started slowly at Georgia Tech.
Nine times before Feb. 16, Favors scored fewer than 10 points in a game, only topping 30 minutes six times in the 25 games the Yellow Jackets played to that point. Favors attributed the struggles to the physical nature of the college game, and worked in the weight room to better weather the blows in traffic. As Johnson noted, Favors finished the season impacting crucial games, going on an 11-game tear (15.6 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 64.2 FG%) that included ACC All-Tournament First Team honors for a four-game, 17.0-point, 9.8-rebound, .658 shooting performance.
The Nets are hoping for a similar adjustment to the NBA’s learning curve, as they work to better Favors’ jumper so he’s comfortable firing from 16-18 feet. Johnson praised Favors’ ambidexterity in the post, notably with hook shots, and said that he expects Favors to ultimately participate as part of a high-low combination with center Brook Lopez crucial to any championship hopes.
Yet the Nets and Favors realize that the forward’s explosive talents might have a slow-burning fuse. They’ve been careful to ease the expectations, focusing on defense and rebounding as the targeted areas of more immediate success.
“Like coach said, he’s not looking for me to come in right away and lead a team to a championship,” Favors said. “And this first year is going to be a learning experience for me. By my second year, I believe they’ll look to me to help turn things around.”
Rod Thorn responded to recent reports that he’ll be stepping down as Nets President on July 15:
“I’ve talked about as much as I am going to about that. We’re busily getting ready for free agency now and also finding my successor. That’s where my efforts are geared toward and will be over the next several weeks.”
Later Tuesday, the Nets traded forward Yi Jianlian to Washington for Quinton Ross and cash considerations. Ross is known for his defense; the deal also leaves the Nets with $30 million in cap space entering free agency.
Yi, acquired by New Jersey on June 26, 2008, played in 113 games with the Nets over two seasons, averaging 10.2 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. During his three-year career, Yi has averaged 9.6 points and 5.8 rebounds in 179 games.