The Denver Nuggets energetic power forward Kenneth Faried has a great opportunity to crack Team USA's 12-man roster for the Basketball World Cup - taking place in Spain beginning on Saturday. Starting against Brazil in an exhibition game played last night in Chicago's United Center, Faried posted 11 points and nine rebounds in just 23 minutes of playing time against three bona fide NBA big men: Nene Hilario, Tiago Splitter and Anderson Varejao. And while Faried's starting nod may have been due to DeMarcus Cousins' minor knee injury and Andre Drummond's DNP-CD, with this incarnation of Team USA in desperate need of some power up front Faried might be the right man at the right time to get his first taste of elite international play.
Should Faried make the Team USA roster, he'll join a long list of Denver Nuggets alumni who have participated on the biggest global stages of basketball. Most recently, it was former Nugget shooting guard Andre Iguodala who donned a Team USA uniform during the 2012 London Olympic Games. While not a Nugget when the selection of the team was announced, Iguodala was traded during the Olympic tournament itself (giving a less-than-enthusiastic interview when asked about the trade, something that should have been a harbinger of things to come from the other "A.I.") before helping Team USA win a gold medal.
And two years before the London Olympics, Denver-born Chauncey Billups was a critical participant in leading Team USA to the gold in the previous FIBA World Cup (called the World Championships then) in Turkey in 2010. Playing alongside Iguodala and other NBA stars like Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook, Billups was the team's second-leading scorer and second-leading assists distributor. That effort, combined with Billups' NBA Finals MVP and multiple all-star appearances, might be what puts him over the line for Basketball Hall of Fame entry some day (remember, the Basketball Hall of Fame takes international play strongly into account).
Could Faried make it six consecutive international tournaments with a current Nugget represented on the roster?
Thanks largely to former Nugget Carmelo Anthony - who participated in the 2004 through 2012 Olympics and the 2006 World Championships - at least one active Nugget has served his country in international play since 2004. And with the devastating injury to forward Paul George during a recent Team USA scrimmage game and with his fellow forward Durant announcing that he'll skip the World Cup due to fatigue, Faried's competition for the front line positions has been reduced to Cousins, Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond, Mason Plumlee, Rudy Gay and Chandler Parsons. Of that group, only Davis is a lock for what's presumed to be one of the front line positions. And if head coach Mike Krzyzewski decides to go with six front court players, it's hard to imagine Faried not being one of them.
Picking up on that, it was during the Brazil exhibition game broadcast that ESPN announcer Fran Fraschilla spoke of Faried as if he's a lock to make the roster. And this Nuggets fan is certainly in favor of Faried showcasing his talents during the Basketball World Cup. Because while a freak injury potentially lurks around the corner at all times, with the exception of George's tragic leg injury USA rosters (knock on wood) have been relatively healthy since the pros start participating in international play in 1992.
Assuming Faried makes the roster (and doesn't get injured, of course), would this be good or bad for the Nuggets? On the positive side, being exposed to the highest levels of international basketball could possibly inspire Faried to improve his game which, despite his incredible athleticism and on-court energy, still doesn't appear to be rounded out. And playing in a one-and-done tournament like the Basketball World Cup, Faried's experience with high end pressure can only be a positive.
On the negative side, making the Team USA roster could greatly increase Faried's profile on a national stage, something that might already have happened thanks to Faried's impressive 40 point performance in the NBA's 2013 rookie vs. sophomore game and subsequent star turn in that year's slam dunk contest. And with Faried potentially becoming a restricted free agent at season's end, Faried's increase in "star power" could force the Nuggets to overpay (whatever that means anymore) to match whatever offer comes in from another franchise.
But for now, let's root for Faried to make the Team USA roster and help deliver another gold medal for our country. Because with international play increasingly improving in quality, these tournaments are no longer cake walks. Just ask Anthony who - despite playing alongside the likes of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade - was unable to deliver a gold medal at the 2006 World Championships.