Where does the key to this Denver Nuggets team lie? I think it lies in the development of Ty Lawson, the health of Danilo Gallinari, and the development of one Kenneth Bernard Faried Lewis.
The power forward crew for the Nuggets is a very simple one. It's a bunch of Farieds. Ok, it's not that straightforward, but you have Faried, a more limited version of Faried (J.J. Hickson), and almost the complete opposite of Faried (Darrell Arthur). The Nuggets may not fall if this group fails to drastically improve or if they somewhat disappoint, but they certainly will not reach the heights of the playoffs if they do.
Is he a max player? I’m not even going to get into that. It’s been covered here. What does Kenneth Faried offer this year? That’s what you really want to know.
The Manimal is coming off a very good FIBA World Cup USA Men’s Basketball run, just landed a nice contract extension, with questions about his ceiling as a player. What we do now is that Faried is an energy guy. He’s aggressive on the boards, causing defenders to constantly expend energy fending him off, he’s active in space on defense, attacking guards in the pick-and-roll and recovering well.
On the flip side he’s too small to defend real big men in the post and he’s not a real threat from the weakside when, say, Timofey Mozgov is defending said big man. He isn't as effective in the pick-and-roll as he could be, because his height and short arms don’t paint a big roll target. He does have a pet post move in the form of a right handed jump hook, but he’s useless from outside paint area.
About that post game. Faried became the focal point of the Denver offense when Ty Lawson went out with an injury last season, and that post game was on display. He’s smart in the way he gets position, and he’s quick enough to take advantage of slow footed big men in the same way.
The thing that stands out to me is his willingness to work on his game, when he could have made a living off of being an "energy guy." That’s worth something in a market that doesn't attract big free agents often. Faried is conscious enough to know his deficiencies, and seems to know what he has to do to work on developing them.
With that being said, expect an uptick in his numbers (something close to 17.0 points, 10.0 rebounds, 1.0 blocks per game), mainly due to an increase in minutes played. Faried, surprisingly, played 27 minutes per game last season. You would have thought it would be more. Even when J.J. Hickson was out of the lineup, Faried only played a maximum of 32 minutes per game.
That last point is a key one, Faried’s shortcomings seem to attribute to his minute restrictions. Given his work ethic and the usually fall-out from playing USA ball, this season should produce a better defensive Manimal. In particularly his reactions in space and his mentality defending the pick-and-roll.
If he does that, expect a certain amount of clamor that he should be recognized in some way, shape or form (All-Star, Most Improved Player).
Denver has a good group of players that are entering or are in their primes with questions about their future, due to development (JaVale McGee, Kenneth Faried) or injury (Danilo Gallinari). J.J. Hickson fits into both of those groups. Hickson had ACL surgery in March and has a five-game suspension to serve at the start of this season.
The jury on Hickson is pretty unanimous all-around. He’s productive (11.8 points and 9.2 rebounds in 26.9 minutes per game), but he’s on his 5th team in eight years, he has glaring limitations as a defender and shot blocker, and seems to be such a rebound hoarder on the glass that he actually hurts his team (Insider).
At 26 years old, Hickson probably has developed enough to plateau out as a player in the next few years. The problem is, he's almost always been projected as a starter, but he actually has a bench-worthy game. There is no problem in Hickson’s game being what it is, but it’s when he’s put in situations that more is expected out of him that problems arise.
He does things well on offense, he rebounds the ball well and he’s effective as a roll man in the pick-and-roll. He is what he is, as long as he's not expected to be anything else Denver should be fine.
As the fifth big man Arthur usually will see around 15 minutes per game. With Hickson’s and McGee’s injury recovery he’ll see more at the beginning of the season. Once they are back, given the inclusion of Arron Afflalo, Alonzo Gee, and even rookie Jusuf Nurkic, you can still expect to see Arthur given ample time on the floor.
Arthur is the antithesis of the other Nuggets big men in that he has a respectable shot from outside and is known for his solid defense. Arthur does well in the pick-and-roll, hedging well, and guarding the best power and small forwards from the opposing team. Expect more of the same from Arthur this year.
At the end of it all, this group rises and falls with the Manimal. He's primed with the breakout label that comes with the usual USA Men's Basketball performance we've come accustomed to. Given Hickson's injury and Arthur's regularity, I expect Faried to not disappoint.