It seems to be the same story every year for Kenneth Faried. Whenever you set high expectations for him, he disappoints. Then, when you give up on him, he breaks out again to spite you. It started in his rookie year when he went from benchwarmer during the season's first 2 months to starting every game of a seven game playoff series against the Lakers and averaging a double-double against Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. He started out strongly his sophomore year, but saw his minutes dwindle to the mid-20s over the final 2 months of the season.
Then, last year, he was averaging just 25.3 minutes per game at the end of February before breaking out in March and April to the tune of 19.8 points and 10.8 rebounds over his last 25 games. Riding the coattails of that hot finish and his Team USA performance, many owners expected this to be the year that Faried put together a full season. Yet again, however, Faried has failed to live up to those high expectations averaging just 11.7 points and 8.4 rebounds in 26.4 minutes per game. However, Faried has continued to tease owners lately and is averaging 17 points and 16 boards in 31 minutes across his last 5 games. Is Faried about to go on a 2-month long tear like he did last year or is this just a flash in the pan? Let's dive into the numbers and find out.
The Nuggets Are A Team Built On Depth
Before looking at Faried as an individual, let's contextualize his role by taking a quick look at the Nuggets organizational philosophy. Since the departure of Carmelo Anthony, the Nuggets have been without a true star. They have some solid players like Ty Lawson, but nobody who really carries star power in the league. As a result, the Nuggets organization relies on depth and a fast pace of play in order to earn victories.
GM Tim Connelly said in an interview with ESPN's Kevin Arnovitz “Given our lack of [a] superstar or top-30 player, we feel our best chance to be relevant in the Western Conference is with a team that boasts experienced depth, a team that can really make hay with positions 5 through 10.” The Nuggets make it a point to play at a fast pace and run 10, 11, or even 12-man rotations. Their depth is especially noticeable in the frontcourt this year as they have Timofey Mozgov, J.J. Hickson, Darrell Arthur, recently injured JaVale McGee, and rookie Jusuf Nurkic all on the payroll this year in addition to Faried. Faried leads that group with just 26.1 minutes per game. This type of depth in the frontcourt is not a recent change, however.
The Nuggets haven't played a Power Forward or Center for 30 minutes per game across an entire season since Nene in the 2010-11 season. This obviously poses a huge problem for Faried's long-term fantasy value. Before discussing the elephant in the room (i.e. the minutes situation), let's take a closer look at Faried's game, how he gets his numbers, and how he affects the Nuggets as a whole.
Faried's Offensive Game Relies Heavily On Rebounding And Grit
Because of his low usage percentage and inability to create shots, Faried relies heavily on offensive rebounding to get his offense going.
Faried stated his desire to add a mid-range jumper to his offensive arsenal in the offseason, but his work has yet to yield any results. He has taken just 15.4% of his field goal attempts from outside 10 feet from the rim compared to 14.5% last year and has only modestly increased his efficiency from that area increasing his field goal percentage on such shots from 31.9% to 36.6%. Because of this and the fact that Faried is often a 3rd or even 4th option offensively, he relies on finding ways to receive the ball close to the rim in a position to score in order to get his points. Offensive rebounding is one of the main ways he does this. In his career, Faried has played in 82 games in which he has grabbed at least 4 offensive rebounds. He averages 15.2 points and 11.8 rebounds in over 30 minutes of action in those games.
Compare that to the 89 games in which he has grabbed 2 or fewer offensive rebounds (excluding games in which he played fewer than 15 minutes). He averages just 9.8 points and 6.3 rebounds in 25 minutes in such games.
It's obvious that Faried is “on” when he's crashing the offensive class, but what's less obvious is what other factors can help us predict when Faried will be “on” and make a bit more sense of his hot and cold streaks. He does have a pretty sizable home/road split over his career, but, beyond that, it was tough to find any significant indicator. I thought that maybe he performed better against teams who allow the most offensive rebounds. I crunched the numbers. The results were inconclusive. I thought that maybe he performed better against smaller players or “stretch” 4's that spent their time on the perimeter. There were several examples to support that theory like his recent breakout game against Thad Young and Minnesota or his stellar debut this season against Josh Smith and the Pistons.
But for every point, I found a counterpoint like his recent success against Pau Gasol, Taj Gibson, and the Bulls or his lack of success against Markeiff Morris and the Suns. I sliced and diced his numbers in every way I could think of and, every time I thought I had a theory, the numbers would disprove it or prove it to be of little consequence. Alas, it seems that the Manimal, even using advanced metrics, cannot be tamed. Is the volatility in his production simply a product of luck, then? Absolutely not.
There is certainly a relatively large amount of luck involved here. Faried is prone to an off game every now and again simply because he relies on the ball bouncing his way to put up a lot of his numbers. Plays don't get called for him as often as other guys on the floor. Also, he doesn't get many uncontested shots and relies a lot on contested layups at the rim to get his points. These types of shots can also be subject to a lucky bounce here or an unlucky one there. However, Faried's prolonged hot and cold streaks tell me that there's more to his volatility than luck. With offensive rebounds, you can get lucky, but you can also put yourself in position to get lucky. Putting yourself in good position, wanting the ball more, and playing without fear of taller defenders are all things that won't show up on the stat sheet, but are all extremely important to Faried's game. Even more important than the matchup or the home/road split or the pace of the opposing team's offense is that he plays with grit and determination. That, unfortunately, is something that he hasn't been able to do on a nightly basis so far this year.
Faried's Stats, Not Minutes, Are More Closely Linked To Nuggets Victories
So, now that we have a better understanding of Faried's style, we can now ask two important questions surrounding his minutes. First, should the Nuggets play Faried more? Second, will the Nuggets play Faried more?
The 4th-year forward from Morehead State has been a barometer for the success of the Nuggets since he joined the team. Over the past 2 years, Denver is 37-30 (.552) when he scores 11 or more points and 12-36 (.250) when he scores 10 or fewer or doesn't play. They are 35-25 (.583) when he records at least 8 rebounds and 14-41 (.254) when he grabs 7 or fewer or doesn't play. Those are increases in winning percentages of 30% and 33% respectively. When he plays over 30 minutes, the Nuggets are 19-18 (.514) over the past 2 seasons compared to 30-48 (.385) when he doesn't reach that plateau. The difference in winning percentage there is just 13%. Why would points and rebounds have a larger effect on winning percentage? One would expect the three to be highly correlated, right? My hypothesis is that it's more important to the Nuggets for Faried to be playing his game than it is for him to be logging big minutes. I think that because Faried hasn't developed and diversified his game as much as many would have hoped this year. He still doesn't use his mid-range jumper much as I already mentioned and isn't a great defender... at least not anymore.
Two seasons ago, his final one under George Karl, he put up 3.4 defensive win shares, good for 34th in the league, got 1.3 steals and 1.3 blocks per 36 minutes, and held opposing power forwards to a PER of 15..9. This year, his defensive win shares are on pace to decrease for the second straight year, he's getting fewer than one steal and one block per 36 minutes, and opposing power forwards are putting up a PER of 18.3 on him. So, should the Nuggets play Faried more? The answer, in my eyes, is maybe. If he's playing his game, grabbing rebounds, and playing with that grit that I mentioned, he deserves more run than what he's getting. If he isn't playing with that grit, however, he just doesn't have the skill set to do other things well enough to deserve more time on the court. It's as simple as that.
Now, will Brian Shaw change course like he did last year and give Faried more playing time? Let me first say that predicting minutes is an exercise in getting inside somebody else's head. It's a highly speculative affair. That being said, the evidence, to me, is pointing towards no this year. Despite his recent hot streak, I don't think this bump in minutes will be a long-term adjustment like it was last year.
Here's why this year is different:
- Faried isn't playing for a new contract this year
- Once the Nuggets throw in the towel, it will be first-round pick Jusuf Nurkic, not Faried, who will be the new kid on the block with something to prove
- Faried's defense has continued to regress
- Because of point #1 and the fact that he hasn't added another element to his game, the Nuggets gain nothing by increasing his minutes later in the season even if they are looking to trade him
- Brian Shaw is on the hot seat
I think number 5 requites a bit more explanation. So, Brian Shaw has to be fearing for his job and could be getting pretty desperate for wins. He hasn't settled on a firm rotation all year and I think he's desperately looking for a combination of players that will win him some games and buy him another season. Faried has been a monster these past few games, but the Nuggets have still lost 5 of their last 6. I think he continues to shuffle things around especially if Faried puts up some frustrating defensive performances.
So, I've already stated that I don't think he'll see the same minutes bump that he saw at the end of last year. This hot streak might last a few more games, but I just think that he'll eventually stop being the Manimal for a couple games due to either some bad luck or a loss of motivation due to playing on a team going nowhere with his future already secured. When that happens, I think he falls right back into the same situation that we've seen him fall into many times already in his young career. Decent per-minute stats, but not enough run to really be a fantasy star.
As far as the other categories go, his field goal percentage on contested close-range shots is a little lower than last year. I'll chalk that up to a couple bad bounces and bump it up a couple points to his career rate. Everything else is either on pace with his career production or justifiable to extrapolate out based on this year's production.
The projected 9-cat line looks like this:
Kenneth Faried's projected overall 9-cat ROS line
Touted as a top-50 player by some in the preseason, Faried has massively disappointed his owners up until he started his recent hot streak. Unfortunately, I believe that he is ultimately doomed to fall back into the depths of the Nuggets frontcourt and disappoint his owners yet again after raising their hopes so dramatically recently.
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