It should be easy to like what Kenneth Faried does on the basketball court. Long hair flies behind him as he furiously dives to the hoop. He’s in the air absorbing a rebound before anyone else knows the shot is even missed.
He is kinetic, manic and impossible to contain; the effect is mesmerizing.
But as much as his style is inherently enjoyable, there’s also a tendency to disregard what he does. His scoring is almost exclusively around the basket, shooting nearly 87 percent of his attempts from eight feet or less from the rim.
These aren’t all thunderous dunks, either, as these simply pepper the layups that provide the bulk of his points. He’s limited, lacking the range to make him a deadly scorer and the tenacity to make him a vicious defender.
He doesn’t dribble very well, nor is he a pinpoint—or frequent—passer. He is mop-up duty incarnate. Garbage points with a pulse.
There is also the issue of his contract, one that is likely to dog Faried as it did Joe Johnson during his tenure with the Brooklyn Nets.
Fresh off three productive seasons with the Denver Nuggets that were supplemented by a strong performance in the 2014 FIBA World Cup, the “Manimal” signed a four-year, $50 million extension with the team that drafted him out of Morehead State University.
The deal was a considered a little too rich by most pundits although there was also the hope that Faried would evolve into something greater. But reports later surfaced that the Nuggets front office was “forced” into offering the extension and that Faried, while beloved by the Denver fan base, wasn’t necessarily as appreciated by the team he plays for.
While questions about his character seem resolved or unfounded, the reality is that the contract is quite a sum of money for someone this specialized. Two seasons have passed, and while the team has faced injury and inconsistency on the court and dysfunction off of it, Faried has not yet reached the potential that was expected with such a hefty price tag.
Still, there is some value in what Faried does, even if it may not seem worth $50 million. There’s a consistency in what he can do well (pick-and-roll, clean the glass, score in transition) and what he can’t (shoot, defend along the perimeter).
He’s not the focal point of the team’s offense and head coach Mike Malone, given an intact roster, is widely considered capable of assembling a lineup that could maximize Faried’s great and limited skills.
In March, Faried enjoyed the best month of this disappointing Nuggets season, averaging 15.1 points on nearly 67 percent shooting through eight games. A Mar. 14 outing in Miami was highlighted by him finishing 11-of-11 from the field for 24 points. He was effective against both smaller defenders (Luol Deng, Johnson) and larger ones (Hassan Whiteside), using his uncanny timing and reckless athleticism to keep the Nuggets in the lead throughout most of the game.
In a game the following night against the Magic, Faried played just 14 mostly-ineffective minutes. He wasn’t able to limit Orlando’s Aaron Gordon, nor was he able to imbue Denver’s offense with his usual energy.
He finished with a mere seven points before Malone benched him in the second half. The move raised some eyebrows but wasn’t completely unjustified, particularly with how Gordon was able to use his own size and speed so effectively. But it was later revealed that Faried was suffering from lower back soreness that has since kept him out of the past three games.
Denver, after having won five of the previous seven games with Faried in the lineup, have since dropped three of the last four. A 33-point drubbing by Cleveland on Mar. 21 was clearly the death knell for the season.
Faried finds himself, again, at a rare turning point in his career. While he’s paid as an accomplished veteran, he’s still young enough to reach another level of his development.
He isn’t Denver’s driving force, but he’s an important part of what makes them dangerous. He stands at a Rocky Mountain crossroads, where potential and success stand diametrically opposed to self-satisfied failure.
Perhaps a lesson can be learned from his accomplishments with Team USA, where he’s established himself as a vital-yet-complementary role player. But while the Nuggets aren’t likely to field a team of such overwhelming talent, they’ll be best served by realizing that Faried’s impact may be glorified but is absolutely essential to their future growth.