All eyes on Fa­vors as Jazz be­gin life with­out Gobert

Daily Times (Primos, PA) - - SPORTS - By Ka­reem Copeland

SALT LAKE CITY » The de­par­tures of Gor­don Hay­ward and Ge­orge Hill were sup­posed to set Der­rick Fa­vors up for more op­por­tu­ni­ties with the Utah Jazz. That wasn’t con­sis­tently so through the first 12 games of the sea­son, but there’s no ques­tion the eighth-year big man will now have to shoul­der more re­spon­si­bil­ity on both ends of the floor.

The Jazz will ex­pe­ri­ence life with­out Rudy Gobert for the next month with the sec­ond-team All-NBA cen­ter out with a bone bruise in his right leg.

“I’m ex­cited about it,” Fa­vors said. “It’s a new chal­lenge. I get to be a big part of the of­fense now. A big part of the de­fense, too. It’s a big re­spon­si­bil­ity, but I’m ready for it.”

Fa­vors is now the start­ing cen­ter, slid­ing over from power for­ward. Thabo Se­folosha started against the Nets at power for­ward and Jonas Jere­bko got the start against the Tim­ber­wolves.

Gobert was av­er­ag­ing 13.9 points, 10.5 re­bounds and 2.5 blocks per game. Fa­vors had 24 points, 12 re­bounds and two blocks against the Nets, but nine points, 10 re­bounds and one block against the Tim­ber­wolves.

The Jazz were al­ready strug­gling with con­sis­tency as a ros­ter and now they’re with­out their cen­ter­piece — the de­fen­sive player of the year that’s the fo­cal point of one of the league’s top de­fenses sev­eral years run­ning. The 7-foot-1 French­man’s rim pro­tec­tion al­lowed de­fend­ers to be ag­gres­sive on the perime­ter know­ing Gobert had their back.

The Jazz will be smaller with the 6-10 Fa­vors in the mid­dle and a com­bi­na­tion of Se­folosha, Jere­bko, Joe John­son, who’s cur­rently out with a wrist in­jury, and Ekpe Udoh at power for­ward. Coach Quin Sny­der can go even smaller with Joe In­gles at the four in cer­tain line­ups. That could re­sult in more switch­ing or other nu­ances de­fend­ing the pick-and-roll.

“Our mar­gin for er­ror gets a lit­tle bit slim­mer,” Sny­der said. “Our team will ad­just. That’s all you can do. Ev­ery sub­sti­tu­tion pat­tern changes the makeup of the team. Some more dra­mat­i­cally than oth­ers. Ob­vi­ously, Der­rick play­ing with Thabo or Joe In­gles at the four, there’s a dif­fer­ent style of at­tack. It’s some­thing that Der­rick’s ca­pa­ble of do­ing and do­ing well.”

There will be ad­just­ments of­fen­sively, also, as Gobert had im­proved as a fin­isher around the rim and is one of the best rollers to the bas­ket in the pick-and-roll. The lob had be­come a staple of the of­fense. Fa­vors is av­er­ag­ing 11.2 points, 5.4 re­bounds and 0.6 blocks this sea­son — im­prove­ments from his in­juryrid­dled 2016-17, but still a step back from the pre­vi­ous three sea­sons. He has im­proved his range and has some of his ath­leti­cism back af­ter knee and back in­juries, but he still hasn’t been as ef­fec­tive. Opin­ions range from Fa­vors just not be­ing the same player any­more to his num­bers be­ing af­fected by de­creased play­ing time with fewer op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Off­sea­son ac­qui­si­tion Ricky Ru­bio has strug­gled as the start­ing point guard and his 3.9 turnovers per game are the eighth-most in the league. He’ll have to de­velop chem­istry with Fa­vors.

Sny­der said they have to some­times wres­tle with Fa­vors to get him to roll.

“It’s some­thing dif­fer­ent be­cause at the four I’m so used to pop­ping out to the free throw line, or be­yond 3-point line, while Rudy’s in the paint,” Fa­vors said. “Now my main job is to roll to the bas­ket, roll in the paint, try to draw a lot of at­ten­tion so guys can get open on the cor­ner three or perime­ter. It’s def­i­nitely some­thing new this sea­son that I have to get used to, but I’m ready for it.”

The Jazz are deal­ing with a plethora of in­juries again af­ter Fa­vors, Hill, Rod­ney Hood and Alec Burks all missed sig­nif­i­cant time last sea­son. Dante Exum (shoul­der surgery) is out for the sea­son and John­son (wrist) should be reeval­u­ated soon.

Gobert said this won’t change any play­off ex­pec­ta­tions for the team.

“It’s frus­trat­ing for sure,” Gobert said. “We know that ev­ery game mat­ters. At the same time, I think it’s just go­ing to make us stronger. I’m con­fi­dent the team can win with­out me. The only thing I can do is make sure I do ev­ery­thing right and when I come back, I’m stronger and I’m ready to help the team out.”

RICK BOWMER — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Utah Jazz cen­ter Rudy Gobert grabs his knee af­ter be­ing in­jured in the sec­ond half of a game against the Mi­ami Heat.

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