UNLEASH THE MANIMAL! (But maybe from the bench)

The story of Kenneth Faried’s career is a very interesting one.

Despite being the all-time leading rebounder in modern-day NCAA history, Faried fell all the way the 22nd pick in the 2011 NBA draft where the Nuggets scooped him up.

The reasons he fell were well documented; he was undersized, lacked an offensive game, and was an average finisher. But he also had some huge strengths; the rebounding prowess, the motor and his incredible athleticism.

He ended up in the perfect situation in Denver, a place where he was asked to rebound and run the floor, things he did very well. Because of that he burst on the scene as a rookie with highlight after highlight. He also captured peoples’ hearts and imagination; I have seen projections from various Nuggets followers that call him a future All-Star, a superstar and even Dennis Rodman 2.0.

But 2012-2013 should temper those expectations just a bit and raise a very interesting, and difficult, decision for George Karl and whoever runs the Nuggets front office going forward.

Is Faried better utilized as a sixth man?

On the surface Faried’s 2012-2013 season was an improvement from his rookie campaign. His scoring rose from 10.2 points to 11.5 and his rebounding from 7.7 rebounds per game all the way up to 9.2.

But dig a little deeper and you actually find that Faried actually regressed a bit in his second season, and that the rise in per-game numbers was just due to the six more minutes he played per game.

The following chart from basketballreference.com are the per 36 minute stats for Faried’s two seasons in the league. While it doesn’t show exactly why the stats are dropping, it shows that there is actually a production difference.

Faried per 36 minutes

The numbers were small drops, about a basket and a half a rebound per game while everything else stayed virtually the same.

A look at Faried’s advanced stats show why the drops came.

Faried Advanced Stats

As you can see the numbers aren’t kind to Kenneth.

The only areas that he got better were defensive rebounding percentage, steal percentage and turnover percentage and the grand total of improvements in those three areas combined was 0.5 percent. Meanwhile there were drastic drops in a few very important areas of Faried’s game, his finishing ability and his offensive rebounding percentage.

For Faried to have any impact offensively he has to finish at the rim well. Yet this season he had large drops in both his true shooting percentage and his efficient field goal percentage, partially because his finishing in the restricted area tumbled this season from 67 percent in 2011-2012 to 62 percent in 2012-2013. For someone who cannot create any type of offense for himself that is a problem. If Faried cannot catch passes and finish at the rim he cannot score effectively.

That field goal percentage drop is hard to not correlate with the Manimal’s drop in offensive rebounding percentage, the percentage of available offensive rebounds he grabbed when he was on the floor. With such a big disparity between the two seasons in that number and Faried shooting percentages it quite clear for Faried to be most valuable he has to be grabbing a higher amount of offensive rebounds because it typically gives him wide open dunks and layups that he is able to finish with ease.

What the difference can’t really be attributed too is the time Faried spent at center. In fact in both the two seasons that he has played Faried has played the exact same amount of the Nuggets available minutes at center, 11 percent. The extra minutes that he received this season were at the power forward spot where he jumped from 29 percent of the Nuggets minutes in the 2011-2012 campaign to 44 percent this past season according to 82games.com.

All these signs seem to point to one thing, that Faried may in fact be at his most valuable playing closer to the 20 to 22 minutes per game he played his rookie season than the 28 or 30 that he played this past season.

It makes sense.

Faried is a player whose best attribute is his motor. As he plays more minutes that motor causes him to tire easier and once that happens the athleticism that combines with that motor to allow Faried to thrive suffers.

Unfortunately for Faried if that happens there is really nothing to justify keeping him on the floor. He cannot stretch the floor at all and there isn’t really any hope that he is developing a jumper.

In his rookie year Faried shot 33 percent on any shot that was not in the restricted area, an area which includes the rest of the paint. This past season that number rose to 37 percent making his career average 36 percent. That just isn’t good enough for a 23 year old and really doesn’t provide much hope that a jump shot should be coming. In fact if you take out any shots in the paint Faried has shot 32 percent in 2011-2012, and 25 percent last year for a career total of 27 percent.

While there is always hope that a player develops more skills as they stick in the league it is getting to the point that the hope for Faried developing his offense has to be tempered or even disappear. In the end Faried still has all the weakness on offense he entered the league with and there really hasn’t been much tangible development in his jumper or his work in the post. As he matures and understands the game better he will probably improve in his pick-and-roll play but outside of that I wouldn’t expect much. At a certain point a player is who he is, and it seems like Faried may have reached that point.

On the defensive end Faried isn’t much of a factor either. He tends to get way out of position at times and has a tendency to chase rebounds at the expense of closing out on open shooters. There have been plenty of nights that Faried has been eaten up by his man and nowhere near enough where he has shut someone down. I do think Faried will get a bit better on the defensive side of the ball as he grasps coverages and rotations a bit better but at some point his athleticism will leave him. As someone already playing undersized at his natural position and seeing some significant time at center will the proper rotations even matter if he loses his burst?

All of this isn’t to say Faried isn’t useful. I believe that he can be an elite bench player, good for 20 to 22 minutes of great energy and hustle a night and against bench units his below average defense should be less of an issue. On the other side of the ball, his great athleticism and nose for offensive rebounds should thrive.

Look at the times JaVale McGee has completely changed the game off the bench with his energy. Now imagine Faried, someone with even more energy and that is even more consistent, doing the same thing.

This season Corey Brewer seemed to be the Nuggets energizer bunny off the bench, someone who came in and gave the team a shot in the arm when things were dragging. There were plenty of nights where Brewer completely changed a game. With his future in Denver up in the air Faried would be able to step into that bench energizer role perfectly, a very important part to this Nuggets team.

The other thing a minutes limit would allow is for that athleticism to last just a bit longer. Mileage on NBA players’ knees and legs seems more correlated to minutes than games or seasons so it may turn out to be a smarter plan in the future to keep Faried’s minutes down. Any extra seasons the Nuggets can grab out of his skills and athleticism are bonuses, especially at his current contract.

With all the turmoil going on right now in the Nuggets organization front office, the roster probably hasn’t been look at as much as in a normal offseason. But eventually someone is going to have to and that person will have tough decisions to make regarding the Nuggets core.

Right now that core clearly involves Ty Lawson as the best player, Andre Iguodala, if he returns to Denver, as the second best player and Danillo Gallinari as the third best player when he gets healthy.

After those three the Nuggets are locked into a group of rotation players with only Corey Brewer being a free agent from that group.

The team’s first priority will, or at least should, obviously be Iguodala, but after that I would expect a good, hard look at the Manimal and his role.

Things can get very interesting in that regard. If Denver decides to go outside of the organization to find a new general manager there won’t be any ties to Faried from that group. If that group then decides to go away from the up-tempo style things can get problematic for the Manimal, whose game really doesn’t fit well in a slow paced style for reasons stated above.

With Lawson, Iggy and Gallo all locked into the starting lineup the areas for improvement and new faces are the two starting bigs and the bench. If those in the power in the organization are determined to make Faried start the Nuggets have only one place to possibly improve the starters and that is at center. Limiting possible improvements like that doesn’t make sense, so opening up a starting spot and more minutes for a more defensive minded power forward or a stretch four could make the Nuggets even more dangerous.

Either way whoever takes control of the Nuggets front office will surely take a long hard look at Faried this offseason, one that includes the growth, or lack thereof, that he made this season and a guess at how much growth they think he theoretically has left in his game.

What they determine will be very interesting, and very much worth watching because it could shape things big time in the near future for the Nuggets and where this roster is going.

  • Kabelo Bitsang

    Only bench him if there is a better player available who can start and take up those minutes. If he is the best option at power forward then he has to start and play as often as possible, even if his production decreases slightly. Compared to the average NBA power forward Faried is better at rebounding, blocks, turnovers and steals and effective field goal %. Compared to the rest of the league his numbers say he is a starter.

    His efg% and true shooting % are still better than the average power forward. Yes he is not a good shooter but he knows this so doesn’t kill the team by taking bad shots. He needs to improve his free throw %, foul rate and assists to become an elite player.

    The other power forward options are no where near as productive so giving him starter minutes is a no brainier right now.

    • MattRMC

      I agree that you can’t move him to the bench for any player on the roster right now but my point was more that it would give the Nuggets a lot of flexibility if they were willing to do it.

      And while all those numbers are better than average the context also has to be looked at. We know Faried is a great rebounder, no one doubts that. But blocks and steals don’t always equal good defense and the turnovers and efg% is a product of Faried doing almost nothing besides catching and dunking/lay ups. He won’t turn the ball over sure but he also isn’t creating looks for anyone else or really even passing that often. And while his shooting is better than average it doesn’t necessarily make him a good offensive player. For example Faried is ahead of both Ryan Anderson and Ersan Ilyasova (guys the Nuggets can’t get) in those numbers but there is no way he is a better offensive player than either of the two.

      As for those improvements can he really make them? He isn’t a good shooter, is undersized and doesn’t pass because he doesn’t do anything to create.

      Basically it all goes to my point. He is a very good player. One that is a great fit for this Nuggets roster. But he isn’t perfect and there are better players so the Nuggets shouldn’t refuse them because of him.

      • Kabelo Bitsang

        All players have holes in their game. Faried gives you above average NBA production for dirt cheap (unlike other good power forwards). Even with his weak offensive game he still averages double digit points at 55% shooting. You won’t take that every-time ? You have a power forward averaging almost a double double, how he gets his points doesn’t really matter, as long as he does it efficiently.(i.e he doesn’t waste possessions). The Nuggets had an elite offense this season with Faried playing starter minutes so what is the problem ?

        Faried is not just an “energy guy”, he is very productive. He should not be playing center though, I don’t know what Karl is thinking when they have a 10 million dollar center on the bench .

        Yes his defense is not great but I blame the coach for that. As a team Denver’s defense is just average, which won’t get it done in the play-offs.The elite teams have a clear defensive strategy and identity which I do not see from the Nuggets. They also need to improve their 3 point shooting, something Faried has no control over.

        So I still say start him, give him even more minutes :)

  • TheOriginalJakesauce

    I see a place for Manimal on the bench, if JaVale starts and you keep those two from the floor at the same time and also keep Manimal from center. This forces George to make constant rotations. I can’t imagine anything better for those two high motor, extreme athlete freaks. I could see them both getting double doubles in 20 minute roles. And it probably means either Kosta or Wilson starying at 4, which looks like some sweet strategic possibilities.

  • Daniel Winston

    Love Faried but he does need to expand his game. Defense is one area that he should really be able to make strides in. He has the effort and athleticism, he just needs to figure out where to be and when to be there. It’s up to the coaches to find the perfect balance between keeping him fresh and allowing him to play as much as possible. He is a very important player on this team and we rely on him. Just look at the first two games against Golden State. He is one of our most competitive and tough players.

  • buffs&hearts

    Agree 100%!!!! Someone tell this to our GM…oh wait. We need a legit scoring big or someone who can play D. I think that is our biggest hole right now. Faried is a great player and invaluable to this team but he just has too many holes in his game. I could see him being dominant and a nightmare for other teams off the bench. Fresh legs against a bunch of scrubs equals double the production in my eyes :) Plus I think he could play more relaxed and just do his thing. Less focus on rotating etc. etc. and more MANIMALISTIC instincts. Rebound!! Dunk!! Run!

  • http://Twitter.com/A_Rodriguez8 D3Ntilthe3ND

    Yup. I’ve been saying he should be coming off the bench since last season.

    I really wanted the front office to go after David Lee last off-season & have Manimal come off the bench as an injection of energy.

    Hoping this year they go after David West or an equivalent player.

  • Scott

    I see Manimal as a Nugget for life regardless of his spot in the rotation. If Josh will pay Javale 11 mil a year, he will pay Manimal too. I follow Kenneth on twitter/instagram and one thing I notice that is different than most athletes is that he represents his team. Most athletes wear designer clothes or name brands but I always see him wearing Nuggets hats and gear. Its cool that he loves this team and this city.

  • dynamo.joe

    This might be the dumbest article ever published here. Your per minute argument completely glosses over the fact that his per 36 minute production was 2nd only to Lebron last year and this year fell all the way to the lowly position of 17th in the NBA.

    There have been articles on this site about his improvement as a passer in the 2nd half of the season and the consistent jumper he demonstrated from just to the left of the freethrow line.

    Karl stupidity shouldn’t be laid at the feet of Faried either. How hard is it to sub for a guy? Maybe there is some rule I don’t know about that says your starting PF has to stay in for a minimum of 10 minutes at a time? Most starters have a schedule like 9 minutes on, 6 minutes off, 9 minutes on, but there is nothing to prevent you from setting a schedule like 6 on, 3 off, 6 on, 3 off, 6 on. Especially when you have a guy you like to play at the 3 and 4 like Wilson Chandler.

    Lebron was 26 and year 8 when he finally decided to develop a post game, but somehow the window has already closed on Faried at 23 and year 2?

    Lawson was absolutely horrific from Oct to mid January (if playoff Lawson shows up all season, then this is a strength, but we said that last summer too). If Iggy doesn’t come back, we have Corey (who should be getting Mozgov type minutes), Hamilton (average in a small sample size, with upside), Fours (a few flashes in limited minutes) at the 2. Wilson Chandler (mediocre [which is better than I expected]) and Quincy Miller (couldn’t score, which is the only thing he was ever known for, in an itsy-bitsy-teeny-weeny-yellow-polka-dot sample size) at the 3. And in your considered opinion the place we should be looking to improve is the 4?

    The only legitimate point you made in the whole article was that his decline is likely to be precipitous. Once his athleticism deserts him (likely 8 years from now, another point you glossed over) the player he is now won’t be able to stay in the nba. If he wants to be in the NBA past age 31 or so he needs to diversify his game.

    • buffs&hearts

      you cannot compare faried to lebron. Lebron is the greatest athlete in the world and had limitless potential when he came into the league. I agree that it is early to rule out the possibility of getting better and developing a post game but It is more likely than not that faried will ever develop a consistent jump shot or post game. Some guys just never do.

  • heykyleinsf

    I don’t think there is a set formula that will work in all 82 games.
    What frustrates me about GK.. is he pulls players when they are
    hot and leaves them in their when they’re cold.
    There’s a lot of streaky players on this team.
    Take their temperature from minute to minute..
    Brewer, Chandler, McGee, Fournier.. all have
    made cases to start.. certain lineups vs certain
    opponents also call for smarter matchups.
    Faried seems to have certain matchups that he owns
    and others that own him. Play him accordingly like
    everyone else.

  • chantech

    I can’t believe how bad and lazy this analysis is. First of all, his drop in offensive rebounding can be almost entirely explained by playing with teammates who grab a larger percentage of offensive rebounds. Second, you don’t want Faried to develop a mid-range game as the majority of his value is in offensive rebounding and when he’s shooting he’s not rebounding…we’d be way better off having Ty or Gallo chuck 3′s. It’s very hard to just leave him wide open to double as he vertically spaces the floor very well, similar to what Bird was doing against Indiana.

    Finally, you advocate saving his knees for later in his career. If he’s not a Nugget 5 years from now, then what was the point of underutilizing him, considering that he has a high win shares number. It’s like a coach who benches LeBron after he picks up his 3rd foul in the first half and then he ends the game with 3 fouls.

    About the only part of this post I agree with is the fact that he needs to improve his defense. Someone should spend all offseason teaching him how to defend.

    • MattRMC

      Chantech,

      I don’t ask for full agreement I do want to explain why I feel differently than you do in regards to the specific points you thought I was wrong on or overlooked.

      If you want to attribute the drops all to playing a larger percentage of minutes with Kosta Koufos (Faried played about 48 percent of his minutes with KK this year I believe) that is fine. But in that case with Koufos putting up a very similar ORB%, finishing better at the rim 66% to Faried’s 62 this year and being a better defender it would stand by your reasoning he should get more minutes then Kenneth no?

      As for Faried adding a midrange shot the point is to diversify a very one dimensional offensive game. Adding the ability for a big to knock down a mid range J would be great for this offense as instead of two bigs that have to score at the rim meaning two bigs are there to meet Lawson at the rim, Faried would draw his defender away leading to more open shots for himself and other teammates.

      For the second part about his knees the point of this whole article is it gives the Nuggets more roster flexibility. I would assume Nuggets fans want a guy who is a clear fan favorite around as long as possible and I gave a way for that to actually happen. If you would rather a team run a player into the ground in the first few years of his career and then discard him then so be it and we agree to disagree.

      And for your lockout point wouldn’t the lack of growth this year then be troublesome? Faried had longer between games to rest and a full summer and training camp to get better this past summer and he didn’t do it much at all. Shouldn’t that be worrisome? This season wasn’t a strange one, it was normal.

      • chantech

        On your first point, I’m not referring to Koufos specifically, I’m referring to the entire lineup. Iguodala replaced Afflalo’s minutes and is a better offensive rebounder. I think the drop is mostly lineup effects, a bit of randomness, and the league being unprepared for his energy in a lockout year where teams were playing a compressed schedule at altitude. I’m not making any implicit statements about minute allocation based on player production in a vacuum – quite the opposite actually.

        I know what you’re trying to get at with Faried drawing defenders away from the rim but it’s usually a poor decision to space the floor with your bigs because they have to shoot such a high percentage to make up for the missed offensive rebounding. If floor spacing is your issue then teaching your bigs to shoot mid-range jumpers is probably the worst option. The first way to solve it is add better shooters and clog the paint on purpose to get wide open 3′s. The second is use your big as the screener on the high PnR. The third is force his man to commit and have him cut down the baseline for a dunk.

        Just because the Nuggets want a guy around forever doesn’t mean he’s going to stay around forever. You’re foregoing present value for some future value that may not necessarily exist. Further, if you’re going to manage minutes for long-term health, you should do it according to the typical NBA age curve where you play a guy 40 minutes until he hits 26-27 and you gradually reduce minutes until he hits 33-34 and then you drastically reduce minutes (the Spurs do this perfectly with their team).

        I’m not saying this season was strange, only that you can’t really extrapolate much by comparing it to a lockout season as it’s not apples to apples. You’re treating the lockout season as the baseline and saying he regressed in a normal season. Instead, you need to treat this year as the baseline, heavily discount the lockout season, and then see if he improves next year. Further, you would expect year-to-year improvement until the age of 27, but there’s variance in individual season sample sizes even in non-lockout seasons, let alone a season as strange as last season’s. I know you disagree but it’s hard for the average fan to understand just how weird the lockout season was without watching an inordinate amount of basketball or spending an unhealthy amount of time pouring over the quantitative data.

  • chantech

    Also, I’m skeptical of any analysis that takes a lockout year as baseline production. Most people don’t understand just how weird that season was because 1. it was so short, 2. the compressed schedule, and 3. no training camp.

  • Aaron

    I’m in favor of moving Manimal to the bench. . but I don’t think it realistically happens for a few reasons: 1) Gallo isn’t back until Feb. We’ll need all the frontcourt depth we can get. Unless we think we’re going to start A. Randolph, that doesn’t make sense. 2) If Karl is still the coach, he likes offense off the bench and Brewer, Faried, K2 (if Javale begins to start), etc.. . ain’t much offense. No, if we flip Brewer and others for a shooter . . then maybe. But, I don’t know. I’m not sure it works unless our team changes.

  • CJP32

    Right now, Iggy, Brewer, Mozzy could all leave Denver, and Gallo is out until FEB, game ready by MAR – its up in the air. If Faried were to be benched, who starts at PF? Wilson Chandler? This guy is aways injured and we saw what happened to his productivity and effectiveness in the Playoffs – he was a mess. Cant start KK and McGee – limited offense. AR is not starter material.

    I like the idea of Faried off the bench, but only if the whole team is healthy, which is pretty rare. He needs to work on a 15 footer, a post spin move, better passing. I think 32 mpg is ideal.