It feels like for as long as I can remember, I've been waiting for Kenneth Faried to put it all together. At 6'-8", 230 lbs, we fell for the physical tools, the passion, the high flying hooliganism.
Every year was the year the Manimal was supposed to arrive as a star. He started on the USMNT for the 2014 World Cup alongside Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, James Harden, and Anthony Davis—which one isn't like the rest (hint: Stephen Curry is the only MVP and is not the odd one out)? Now, with rising star Nikola Jokic taking over the starting center position and coach Mike Malone going small, starting Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari at the forwards, Faried's stock is plummeting.
As the league doubles down on small ball, Faried has become a floor-spacing liability. Coach Malone and the Nuggets have found success surrounding Jokic with floor stretching forwards. Cutting and passing lanes open up when they space the floor with Jokic operating out of the high post; the screen and roll with Mudiay becomes more efficient with outlets planted along the three-point line. Already undersized to play the traditional power forward role, having Faried clog up the paint next to either big in Jokic or Nurkic is suicidal. Although he shoots 54% from the field, that number drops to 40% when he steps out further than 3 feet and again to an abysmal 33% from 10+ feet out (stats courtesy of basketball-reference.com). Faried doesn't need to be a knockdown three point shooter to gain value. He just needs to not suck outside the paint.
Though the league seems to be trending away from board-crashing, paint-clogging bigs, Faried still has the potential to be a high pace, small ball 5. Think back to last year's Eastern Conference semi-finals where 6'-5" Justise Winslow matched up at center. Size clearly isn't the issue with Faried at the 5; his defense, however, has been porous to say the least. For a guy with the combination of lateral quickness and vertical, Faried has never averaged more than a block or steal per game. On top of that, asking a guy who allows opponents to shoot over 60% in the paint to anchor a defense is, well, let me put it another way; if Tony Allen is your go-to-scorer, you're probably in trouble. In the same vein, Faried is hardly a defensive cornerstone despite his athleticism and his effort.
Though the pick and roll is the most basic set in an offense's playbook, stopping the pick and roll is vital for a defense trying to stay out of rotation. Watch (above) how Chicago exploits Faried's pick and roll defense. Far too often, Faried is caught in no man's land: not close enough to attack the ball handler, not deep enough to box out the roll man. If you can't defend the first look out of a pick and roll set, you'll be hard pressed to put together a functioning defense.
The Nuggets have loaded their team with young talent from Nikola Jokic to Gary Harris to Jamal Murray to Emmanuel Mudiay (yes, even Emmanuel Mudiay, whose funky double-clutch jumper might be his most developed skill). That being said, building on those pieces presents somewhat of a quandary. They're loaded at the guard and center slots, but the forwards present an issue. Gallinari and Chandler (who's playing the best basketball of his career) are starting caliber forwards, but will they still be when the Nuggets stocks peak? Moving either Nurkic or Faried is a must, but who's going to bite? Best case scenario, Malone gives one of them enough minutes to be productive and raise their trade value to flip them for picks or an emerging wing. The Nuggets have youth and they have talent, but their rebuild is far from over.