As some of you may have noticed, the FIBA World Cup is currently in full swing in Spain, and Team USA has, at the time of this writing, won its first four games. Apart from a subpar first half against Turkey, the US has rolled relatively pain-free through these games, despite having lost a lot of big names in the build-up to the tournament.
One player who has particularly benefited from players like Kevin Durant, Kevin Love and Blake Griffin bowing out of this summer’s USA squad is the Denver Nuggets’ very own Kenneth Faried. Originally predicted to be an outsider for the 12-man selection, he became all but a lock for the team once the biggest stars started dropping out of the squad, each for their own reasons.
But Faried was suddenly thrust from possibly being a bit player – if selected at all – into a starting role on a squad seemingly made up of a B or C-selection of players. His job description had quickly changed from being “The Energy Guy Off The Bench” to “Principal Low-Post Player”.
But four games in, Faried is thriving. And what’s more, he’s done so through doing what he always does; hustle, run, rebound and hustle some more.
Even though this US squad is not the Dream Team reincarnated, it’s still made up of a tremendous amount of talent. The veteran leadership is provided by former MVP Derrick Rose, the backcourt is led by two of the game’s best shooters, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson along with an energized Kyrie Irving, while budding superstar Anthony Davis holds court down low with Faried and talented headcase DeMarcus Cousins. Then there is offensive phenom (and defensive black hole) James Harden, the criminally underrated DeMar DeRozan, the criminally overrated Rudy Gay and promising youngsters Andre Drummond and Mason Plumlee.
But let’s focus on Faried.
Watching the games has been a fascinating experience for a Nuggets fan like myself, because Faried doesn’t seem to care where he is or who he’s playing with – or against. He goes out with that seemingly endless energy and goes all Manimal on the opponent until he’s pulled off again. While most other players on the team are used to being the focal point of the team, and therefore have had to adjust their game with Team USA, Faried has had the advantage of just going out and doing his thing. He sets picks, gets offensive rebounds (4.0 per game so far, thankyouverymuch), provides effective low-post defense, closing lanes on defense and opening them on offense, waiting to pick up the scraps or getting a handoff whenever he gets open.
And he’s done all that extremely effectively. True, the opposition isn’t NBA Playoff-level (or NBA level at all at times), but the way he compares to his teammates still provides a measuring stick for Nuggets fans. It’s been abundantly obvious that he’s a much better player than Andre Drummond at the current point in time, he is more reliable than Cousins and thrives especially well with a tall player next to him in the low post. Seeing him lurk around Anthony Davis, diverting defenders off him or getting open whenever Davis is double-teamed shows how well he can work with a tall center next to him. While Timofey Mozgov will never be another Anthony Davis, this interplay shows an essence of things Brian Shaw should be noting down.
He’s also being more composed, however that’s possible, in his seemingly manic, disruptive style on the floor. He breaks down defenses not by crossovers or post-up plays, but by off-ball screens and backdoor cuts, with increasing regularity. One particular instance from the game with Turkey shows a subtle evolution in Faried’s game as well, where he blocked a layup, but instead of swatting it into the stands, he bounced it off the backboard, picked up his own rebound and immediately passed it up-court. He then sauntered down the weakside sideline, dived in behind the defense, received a pass and finished an acrobatic reverse layup with extreme finesse and a soft touch.
He does have the luxury of only having to play for 20 to 22 minutes a game so far, but he is using the World Cup to show he’s becoming an even more efficient player than before. He knows his strengths, and plays to those, while subtly expanding his game. And against Turkey, when USA found itself down at half-time, Faried was an outright leader in bringing them back and finishing the game off in impressive fashion.
He’s the team’s second-leading scorer with 14.8 points per game and the leading rebounder with 7.8 rebounds per game. He’s shooting a mind-bending .784 from the field (those are mostly dunks, of course), and has hit the only free throw he’s taken so far. He has the highest efficiency rating of anyone on the team.
What all this will mean for his upcoming extension is still unknown, but he’s certainly not hurting his stock. He hasn’t been perfect, mind you. I’ve seen him miss defensive rotations and he still struggles with positioning at times on both ends, but he is visibly working on his fundamentals, showing good footwork and honing his shark-like talent for rebounding. Also, he seems to be a good student, as his team awareness on defense seems to be improved under Mike Kryzewski and Tom Thibodeau on Team USA.
Faried will face a tougher test in the coming week, as stronger opponents lie ahead, especially if they get into what will very likely be a Spain-USA showdown to decide the title. There he’ll get the unenviable task of slowing down the Gasols and Serge Ibaka, something he’s struggled with so far in his career.
If he shows the same sort of effort and efficiency throughout the World Cup as he has so far, it will be very difficult for Josh Kroenke and Tim Connelly to keep his next contract under $10 million a year, though, something that has been mentioned as a potential problem for contract negotiations. But even if he’ll get $10-12 million a year, I believe he’ll be worth it. He’s proving himself as an effective scorer who doesn’t need any plays drawn up for him, standing tall among players who have often been rated above him in the NBA pecking order and showing tangible leadership on a young USA team. He’s also showing himself to be the sort of personality who won’t go for a delusional Bledsoe-type contract hunt, so I believe he’ll take a contract at $10-12 million. Even if he’ll be deemed too expensive for whatever plans the Nuggets have in a year’s time or two (for whatever reason), his reputation is becoming such, through his showing at the World Cup, that trading him for very valuable assets should prove very easy.
But if this World Cup has told me anything so far, it’s that I don’t want to trade him at all. Not even at $12 million a year.
Have you been following the World Cup? What’s your impression of Team USA and Kenneth Faried? Tell us.
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