Where is Kenneth Faried's Career Headed?

The Manimal is tearing up international competition at the FIBA World Cup. Can he parlay that into a big year next season in the NBA?

Kenneth Faried has been living up to the nickname “The Manimal” so far at the FIBA World Cup, as he’s been preying on both opposing defenses and the glass. He’s second on the star-studded US team in scoring at 13.8 points per game, first in rebounding at 7.8 per contest, and is shooting a tournament-best 79.1% from the field through Team USA’s first five games.

This summer, Faried has gone from being a question mark to make the team in the first place to now starting for it regularly as part of a formidable frountcourt duo with Anthony Davis. There’s plenty of evidence that suggests that young guys that put in a lot of quality minutes in these international competitions often come out playing improved ball for their NBA clubs the following season. Faried’s emergence makes him a prime candidate for this kind of breakout next season and the Nuggets – clearly cognizant of his potential to do so – are in the process of trying to lock him up to a contract extension instead of letting him test restricted free agency next offseason.

Is his breakout all but certain or should the Nuggets let things play out a bit more before making a long-term commitment?

Regression on the Surface

A quick look at Faried’s stat lines from his first three seasons in the league don’t tell the story of an eminent breakout at first glance. He has bumped up his scoring average over his first three campaigns, but has noticeably regressed in some other important areas.

Kenneth FariedOff RtgDef RtgWS/48FG%REB%

Faried put up a stellar rookie campaign in 2011-12, good enough to earn him All-Rookie First Team honors. He did so in a fairly limited role, averaging 22.5 minutes per contest in 46 games played, with a usage rate of 18.7%. The Nuggets were a ridiculously well-balanced team that season, with 11 different players averaging over 20 minutes per contest and seven of those scoring in double-digits (Faried having the lowest average in each group). Being viewed purely as an energy guy back then and facing limited defensive pressure allowed Faried to dominate the offensive glass and get lots of easy buckets from close range (he shot 73.1% of his shots directly at the rim that season, connecting on 66.8% of them).

It’s for that reason that holding Faried up to the standard of his offensive rating (123), field goal percentage (58.6%), rebounding rate (grabbing 19.8% of available rebounds), and his rate of win shares per 48 minutes (0.212) from that year might be a bit unfair. By last year, Faried’s minutes had risen from 22.5 to 27.2 per game and his usage rate ballooned from 18.7% in his rookie year to 21.3%, the second highest on the team. The surface regression is much more forgivable when you consider how much his role had shifted to being a central part of the Nuggets game plan by year three.

The apparent drop in rebound rate isn’t much to be concerned about either. The regression there was largely due to a falling offensive rebound rate (4.9% in year one, 3.9% in year three) more than defensive, which stayed relatively steady. This is understandable as he was eating up a lot more of Denver’s possessions than in his rookie year, rather than being off the ball and waiting to crash the boards.

Momentum Shift

Faried’s averages in 2013-14 were pretty solid, sitting at 13.7 points, 8.6 rebounds, 0.9 steals, and 0.9 blocks per game with 54.5% shooting from the field by season’s end. Pretty solid is one thing, but he was downright fantastic over the last two months of the season and the end-of-year stat line doesn’t do it justice. Just look at the difference between Faried’s October to February compared to his March and April.

Oct - Feb5525.310.97.554.2%61.1%
Mar - Apr2531.619.810.855.0%68.8%

The first 55 games of the season were decent and more or less in line with his rookie and sophomore seasons, but those last 25 games were All-Star worthy. He shot much better from the line (one of his biggest weaknesses) over that time and recorded 14 double-doubles, including a 24-point, 21-rebound performance in mid-April.

That’s the version of Faried that Team USA seems to have brought to Spain with them. Hopefully for the Nuggets, that’s the version they get back.

Room to Grow

Faried is establishing himself as a scoring threat that’s versatile beyond tip-ins and fastbreak dunks and his rebounding prowess is impossible to ignore. Last season, despite the aforementioned dips from his rookie year, Faried still finished among the league leaders in field goal percentage (9th at 54.5%), offensive rebound percentage (9th at 11.8%), and total rebound percentage (19th at 16.9%).

He could certainly benefit from increasing his free throw accuracy, but his main area of concern will be on the defensive end if he wants to make the leap from solid role player to star this year. With his defensive rating creeping up every season, his weaknesses on that end are starting to show. He had a decent rim protection rate (allowing 50.4% on 4.8 attempts within five feet last year), but the Nuggets were a much better defensive team with Faried off the floor (defensive rating of 101.4 points allowed per 100 possessions) than with him on it (108.6).

Final Thoughts

All the pieces are in place for Kenneth Faried to have a breakthrough season in 2014-15. If he can build on the momentum from the end of last season and a strong performance at the FIBA World Cup, he could very well be garnering All-Star buzz early in the year. Improvements at the charity stripe and on defense are certainly a priority, but spending the summer surrounded by All-Stars and up-and-coming phenoms (particularly Anthony Davis) should go a long way in fostering that growth.