Pelicans 2020 seeding games profile: Derrick Favors

To paraphrase something several of his New Orleans teammates have noted throughout the 2019-20 season, Derrick Favors is a man of few words. When he wants to make a point, however, he always has his team’s undivided attention.

“He’s quiet, but when he speaks, it means a lot,” Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday said. “What he says, he doesn’t waste words, so when he speaks, everyone cherishes it. Having his presence around, he has a calm demeanor that calms everybody down.”

That steadying presence has been irreplaceable at several stages of the ’19-20 campaign, particularly after New Orleans (28-36) endured a 13-game losing streak, a stretch that initially figured to send the Pelicans to the draft lottery. Favors was sidelined for 10 of those games due to injury and the death of his mother, but after returning to the lineup, the starting center helped the Pelicans surge back into playoff contention.

On a New Orleans squad ranked sixth in the NBA in offensive efficiency since Christmas, the businesslike 6-foot-9, 265-pounder does not put up loud statistics (he’s NOLA’s seventh-leading scorer at 9.2 ppg), nor generate SportsCenter highlights (his 47 dunks in 45 games came with little wasted energy), but his value to New Orleans is undeniable. While there may not be a multitude of individual numbers to prove Favors’ importance, that’s definitely not the case for team stats. For example, the 10-year NBA veteran leads the Pelicans in aggregate plus-minus, with New Orleans outscoring opponents by a total of 139 points when Favors is on the court (Zion Williamson is second at plus-120). In all minutes Favors was not in the game this season, the Pelicans were outscored by 192 points. In another testament to how vital Favors is to his team’s stability, New Orleans has four losses in ’19-20 by 20-plus points – and the Georgia Tech product did not play in any of those games. From Dec. 18 to mid-March, the Pelicans went 20-13 when Favors was in uniform.

“He’s a great teammate,” said 22-year-old guard Frank Jackson, a Utah native who as a teenager rooted for Favors when he played for the Jazz. “He looks out for us, gets the job done … we definitely feel his presence when he’s here. He’s just a positive guy and someone I love to play with.”

Favors: “I was excited for the opportunity just to be around the younger guys and get to know the guys that came from the Lakers with Lonzo (Ball), Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram), and then getting to know Zion, Jaxson (Hayes), Nickeil (Alexander-Walker)… I was excited about that because I knew those guys were going to kind of look up to me and come to me for advice and leadership.”

Given his “wise uncle” role on a team with nine players age 25 and under, Favors has occasionally needed to good-naturedly remind people that he is in fact still only 28. The Atlanta native may not play above the rim much, but he does lead New Orleans in rebounding (9.9 rpg) and shot-blocking (1.0 bpg), critical contributions for a team that relies heavily on small lineups. It’s no coincidence that the Pelicans made a major transformation defensively once Favors was back on the hardwood.

Although Favors may be the silent type away from basketball, during games, his experience and communication on the backline of a defense are prized.

“I feel like to the eye, you can’t really see how much of an impact he has,” Holiday said of Favors’ under-the-radar contributions.

“D Fave has been huge for us,” Hart said. “Amazing for us. Protecting the rim, protecting the paint. Playing good defense on other teams’ bigs. It’s good to have him out there healthy and be able to run with us.”

Seeding games to watch

As the Pelicans player with the second-most playoff experience (31 career games), Favors has been part of many pressure situations in the NBA, including sinking a key mid-range jumper for Utah in the ’18 playoffs, a bucket that helped eliminate Oklahoma City. A year earlier, Favors notched 17 points and 11 rebounds off the bench during a Game 7 first-round road win at the Clippers. Beloved in the Beehive State for his nine-year tenure with the Jazz, Favors will get a chance right off the bat July 30 to face his former teammates in Orlando, attempting to hurt fourth-place Utah’s bid to secure a top-five seed in the Western Conference (with no homecourt advantage available, fourth and fifth place seem interchangeable). In two January games vs. Utah, Favors averaged 15.0 points and 11.0 rebounds, while shooting 70 percent from the field. Both of those Pelicans-Jazz matchups were decided on the final play of regulation or in overtime.