Derrick Favors blocks a shot by Toronto's OG Anunoby

Derrick Favors ready to continue to help lead Pelicans' defensive turnaround

by Jim Eichenhofer

Beginning with New Orleans’ first preseason game in his home city of Atlanta, Pelicans center Derrick Favors was accustomed to seeing his young children in the stands, cheering for Dad. When Favors decided to join his teammates in the upcoming bubble in Orlando, he knew it meant sacrificing not being there for two special occasions in the Favors family – July 22 and Aug. 14 are both birthdates for his kids

“It was definitely a tough decision, but I’ve got the blessing from my family to go out there and do my job and they’ll hold it down for me while I’m away,” Favors said Tuesday, alluding to being away from his family for multiple weeks. “I’ll probably FaceTime my kids every day I’m down there. I’ll spend a couple hours doing that. It will definitely be a tough transition for everybody. (But) we’re going to have to look at the good part about it and just do our jobs.”

Another key adjustment for New Orleans players in the Orlando setup will be attempting to build upon their noticeable defensive improvement in 2019-20, but now without longtime NBA assistant coach Jeff Bzdelik on hand. Bzdelik’s simplified defensive schemes midway through the season helped make the Pelicans much stingier at that end of the floor. As a result, the leadership roles Favors and Jrue Holiday play on defense could become even more vital. The pair have a combined 21 NBA seasons under their belt.

“Guys look to me and Jrue on defense,” Favors said. “All we can do is just communicate to the guys. (We will) try to share our experience with guarding certain situations and certain teams, guarding certain players. We’ve got a lot of good defenders on this team.”

Favors pointed out that although Bzdelik won’t physically be on the Pelicans sideline in Orlando, he will be able to contribute via technology.

“(Bzdelik) will still be with us with certain Zoom calls, with game plans and how to guard certain teams with scouting reports,” Favors said of the preparation-focused defensive coach. “I think we’ve got a good group of guys who are smart defensively and play hard. Hopefully we can make up for him not being there with us.”

New Orleans went from the fifth-worst defensive team in the NBA prior to Christmas, all the way up to 10th-best after the holiday. Post-All-Star break, the Pelicans were seventh in efficiency.

“Guys got comfortable communicating with each other on the defensive end, building that trust on the backside,” Favors said, referring to the importance of help defense. “Guys like Jrue and Lonzo (Ball) did a great job of setting the tone early, coming out and guarding guys (on the perimeter). Jrue guarding the best guy on the (opposing) team. Guys just bought into the system and started developing trust, communication and just started playing harder and believing in that system. That’s what helped turn it around.”

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