SALT LAKE CITY — Derrick Favors is still ticked off about the way his career began — even if it fueled his current rise.
The Utah Jazz forward was selected No. 3 overall in the 2010 draft by the New Jersey Nets and shipped away to Salt Lake City in the midst of his first season as part of a package for All-Star point guard Deron Williams. The Nets moved to Brooklyn in 2012 and had dreams of competing for a title immediately.
Favors was not part of those plans.
"I'm 19 years old from Atlanta, then a year later I go to New Jersey. I'm there for a couple months then the next thing I'm traded across the country to a place I've never been before," Favors said. "It was tough. I got introduced to the business side of the NBA early. During that time I just wanted the season to sort of be over so I could just go home and just forget about it. Now looking back on it, I'm kind of thankful that it happened."
The next two years weren't what one expects from a No. 3 overall pick — 17 combined starts and averages of 9.1 points and 6.8 rebounds. Favors heard the whispers that there must be a reason why Brooklyn gave up on him so quickly.
"I came here and it was sort of like the same thing," Favors said. "He must not be that good. He's not getting a lot of playing time, this and that. Just a whole bunch of stuff. I feel like I got underestimated a little bit. This year, being part of the offense and being one of the main parts of the team, I think people are starting to realize how good I am."
The development of Favors has been one of the key reasons the Jazz have gone 15-7 since the All-Star break.
He developed a midrange jumper in the offseason and coach Quin Snyder made him a bigger part of the offense — especially after Enes Kanter was traded. Favors was made a full-time power forward and given more responsibilities from the high-post. He never averaged more than 15.9 points in any month before February, but those numbers rose to 17.1 in February and 18.0 in March. Favors also had five double-doubles in March.
"He's making that little 15-16 footer," Rockets coach and Hall of Famer Kevin McHale said. "That's opened up some stuff for his dribble game, spin game, attack game. He'll run hard. He bangs in there."
Favors is quick enough on the offensive end and has enough moves around the rim to beat bigger defenders, but still has the lower-body strength to anchor down for position and power through smaller defenders.
Defensively, he's agile enough to hedge or switch in the pick-and-roll game. The Jazz have turned into one of the league's better defensive teams due, in part, to that versatility with center Rudy Gobert protecting the rim in the paint.
Favors, who signed a four-year, $46.95 million deal last season, continues to work to become a better passer and looks to players like Marc Gasol, Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol as bigs that can create offense from the elbow area.
"I like to think of him as a playmaking big," Snyder said. "First, he can hit a shot. I think he's a willing passer. You don't really learn those things until you get put in the situation."
Favors returned Monday from a two-game absence due to back spasms. He promptly dropped 19 points, seven rebounds and three blocks on the Denver Nuggets.
"He's playing great right now," Trail Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge said. "He's playing with patience. He gets his teammates involved. He's making shots, getting to the rim, rebounding well. He's always been a solid big man but he's been even better lately."
Those early slights, however, are fresh in Favors' mind. He remembers his mom saying it was time to grow up and be an adult after saying he didn't want to go to Utah.
"I was basically just angry," Favors said. "I just told myself I'm going to work as hard as I can and prove a lot of people wrong. I just used that as motivation to continue to get better. I still use it to this day."
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