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Denver Nuggets Kenneth Faried helped set impossible expectations

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When Kenneth Faried spoke to the media before the season, he pointed to his last two months of the 2013-14 campaign for a preview of what was to come. That may have been a bit misguided.

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

In the last ten days there have been two article looking at what is wrong with Kenneth FariedPaul Klee, of the Colorado Springs Gazette, penned a piece on the Manimal after the Nuggets hosted the Thunder and won 107-100 on Nov. 19th. And Christopher Dempsey, of the Denver Post, wrote a piece on Faried on Nov. 29th. Both chronicle Faried's struggles this season with some great quotes and observations on Denver's power forward.

From Klee's piece on Nov. 20th:

I would love to tell you what Faried thought of his team's third win in four games, but he declined the offer. After the Nuggets finished off the Thunder, who were without injured stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, I asked Faried for a minute of his time.

"Not right now," Faried muttered, all by his lonesome in the corner of an otherwise giddy, triumphant locker room. Is there something wrong, man? I genuinely wonder.

...

...They love his style, his flair, his dunks. If only that personality carried over into the locker room, or when the lights and cameras are off. Faried could be the man, not just the Manimal, around these parts.

From Dempsey's piece on Nov. 29th:

Faried admits to feeling pressure to perform after signing his new deal.

"But I've got to just deal with the fact that I'm that type of player now. Next year, I start getting paid that type of money, so I can't be making the mistakes that I've been making. Or not doing what I usually do, or what got me the contract. I've got to focus back in and get, not even just rebounding and scoring, just find my love for the game like I always had."

Now, is there anything actually wrong with the Manimal or is Faried just coming back down to earth, a bit, after logging big minutes for the Nuggets late last season and having success versus international no names?

Faried is facing stiffer competition than the likes of Eulis Báez and Eloy Vargas of the Dominican Republic, our old Crime Stopping friend Renaldo Balkman of Puerto Rico, or the tandem of Miha Zupan and Uros Slokar of Slovenia. The only legit NBA big men Faried played against with Team USA were with Lithuania in the Rockets' Donatas Motiejunas and the Raptors' Jonas Valanciunas. Yes, I could be ignorant in not recognizing some of the international talent that Team USA faced, but Faried didn't have to face the guys who routinely give him fits every night in the NBA.

Team USA, through no fault of its own, didn't have to face Boris Diaw with France or the Gasol Brothers, Pau and Marc, and Serge Ibaka with Spain. We didn't get to see Team USA face the toughest tests of the tournament or how Faried would stack up against some of the big man heavy hitters. But we've seen Faried go against some of the best so far this season.

Versus the Nuggets, starting power forwards have been averaging 14.5 points and 6.6 rebounds. That list includes Jason Thompson of the Kings, Luis Scola of the Pacers, Ed Davis of the Lakers, and Cameron Bairstow of the Bulls (that group is averaging just 3.2 points and 4.2 rebounds against Denver).

The "premier" power forwards Faried has faced this season include: Josh Smith, Serge Ibaka (twice), Kevin Love (twice), LaMarcus Aldridge (twice), Carmelo Anthony, Anthony Davis, and Markieff Morris (twice). That group is averaging 19.7 points and 7.0 rebounds against the Nuggets. Not surprising for the 8-8 Nuggets, but they are 5-6 in those contests.

On the flip side, Faried averaged 12.4 points and 7.5 rebounds in games against that "premier" group. Not too shabby for Faried, but not exactly the types of numbers he was hoping to produce this season. And on the year, Faried is averaging just 11.4 points and 7.1 rebounds, so basically the Nuggets are getting a wash or worse every night at the power forward spot. Is he having a rough start, or is he just a victim of a smaller role in an offense with plenty of options?

Let's examine the last three months of last season, plus his numbers so far this season:

Feb 2014 March 2014 April 2014 2014-15
Minutes 27.9 31.4 32 25.9
Shots per game 10.3 13 16.5 9
FG% 54% 55.2% 54.5% 50%
Free Throws M/A 2.6-3.6 4.8-6.8 3.0-4.8 2.3-3.4
FT% 72% 70.7% 63.20% 67.3%
Rebounds 6.6 9.8 13 7.1
Points Per Game 13.8 19.2 21 11.4

*April 2014 stats from the 8 total games that month.

The stats from Feb. 2014 and his stats so far this season are matching up pretty closely: similar minutes, shots taken, free throw attempts, rebounds, and points per game. In March, and, especially, in April, Faried's minutes and shots taken saw a healthy increase as did his free throw attempts. It shouldn't be a surprise that his numbers ballooned the more he was on the court and the more the ball found him.

With Ty Lawson (12.9), Arron Afflalo (11.3), and Wilson Chandler (11.1) leading the team in shot attempts, Faried has found himself fourth in the pecking order with 9.0 shots per game. That's a far cry from the 16.5 shots per game he was getting last April. There is no question that Brian Shaw has designed plays to get Faried the ball in the post and to make him a key part to the offense, but there are a lot of mouths to feed for the Nuggets, so to speak. And with Danilo Gallinari's increasing role, plus Timofey Mozgov's improvement, it'll be necessary for Faried to be patient and make the most of his opportunities.

The Nuggets may not need Faried to be a monster on the offensive end; frankly, they have better options. But make no mistake, Faried is an integral part of what the Nuggets want to do and he can be a key cog for how far this team goes. His elite energy and relentlessness for rebounds are what make Kenneth special.

While many may beg for defensive improvement and increased range on the offensive end, don't forget what got Faried here. Yes, it'd be nice to see improvements to Faried's all around game, and those should come with time, but you don't want to lose the Manimal side either.

Perhaps there is nothing wrong with Faried, except for the impossible expectations he helped create.