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.
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.
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.