Things clearly haven’t gone well for the Nuggets since the start of 2014. The team went into a tailspin, largely thanks to the injury bug that ripped through the team, forcing multiple games of Randy Foye at point guard and other drastic measures. But just because the team hasn’t been headed in the right direction doesn’t mean there hasn’t been any good to come of the season. In fact recently something very encouraging has been happening.
Since the start of March Kenneth Faried has been on fire. The Manimal is averaging 21.1 points and 10.1 rebounds in seven games this month while shooting 64.5 percent from the floor and 70 percent from the free throw line. The stretch is probably the best Faried has played in his entire career and is encouraging for the Nuggets to see as they start to think about what kind of extension they will be offering him next season.
What makes things most exciting for Denver is how the growth has come in one of the places that it seems like Brian Shaw eventually wants to run his offense from—the post.
I was very critical of Faried’s offense early in the season, especially in the post but recently things have been very much improved thanks in large part to him working hard like he usually does. Instead of earlier in the season when Faired would post wherever the defense wanted him too, which was normally on or beyond the block, Faried has recently started to post defenders up where he wants, which normally involves a foot or two being solidly inside the paint on the catch.
When he does that it becomes very difficult to stop him thanks to his jumping ability and strength.
Above is a post-up from earlier in the season against the Kings. As you can see Faried catches the ball a step outside of the block with Chuck Hayes on his back. Faried tries to do something with the ball but is forced even farther from the basket and ends up taking a tough hook from even farther away from the rim thanks to his inability to back down Hayes.
These types of plays happened often early in the season and led to a lot of awkward hooks from tough spots that Faried struggled to convert, which is exactly what happened in that post-up of Hayes.
But slowly things started changing and Faried got more and more successful in the post thanks in large part to his success in catching the ball where he could actually do something with it. The following two plays are from Denver’s recent overtime loss against the Pelicans and are both plays that Faried scored on.
As you can see in both plays Faried caught the ball near enough to the rim to explode up and finish even over a good defender in Anthony Davis. If Faried catches the ball with a foot or two in the paint it makes life so much easier on him as he can use his body as a shield and pin his defender on his back immediately after the catch. By not allowing his defender time to react after the catch and being in a position where he can actually score instead of having to work to that spot after catching the ball it allows Faried to determine the course of action on his terms instead of his defenders.
The most encouraging part is that it isn’t on just makes that Faried is getting this position. On this miss from Wednesday’s win over Orlando he catches the ball with a foot in the paint and makes a nice move on Kyle O’Quinn.
The Manimal is working hard on almost every possession to get himself good position in the paint instead of just settling for catches where the defense wants him to be like earlier in the season.
The other difference is the change in how the Nuggets have used Faried. Earlier in the season Denver used Faried as the screener in a pick-and-roll fairly often, which led to him catching the ball with defenders in front of him somewhere six feet and beyond and being asked to create something from there.
It led to situations like this:
Mostly it lead to misses at the rim, which his December shot (below) plot shows.
In fact for the season Faried is shooting just 45.3 percent as the roll man in a pick-and-roll. The types of looks he gets out of those situations are just ones that are tough for him to convert as such an undersized player when he cannot use his body as a shield. When he has to jump straight up, face on into defenders and finish over their length he has problems.
Now as we get deeper and deeper into the season those pick-and-roll shot attempts have faded a bit as right now they make up just his fifth most often used play type behind cuts, post-ups, transition, and offensive rebounds in that order.
Combine the improved post play with an increase in plays that allow Faried to be successful and we get a month like March. The encouraging thing is that it seems sustainable for the next year or so. Faried may not always shoot 49.1 percent in post-ups like his is this season but if he keeps those other three plays as the most common ways he gets his shots and his play he will be successful.