A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

Is Kenneth Faried being underrated again? Why Faried’s star potential shouldn’t be counted out

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Kenneth Faried is one of the biggest draft steals we’ve seen lately. He fell to 22nd in a 2011 draft nobody liked at the time, despite performing incredibly in college in the one stat everyone agrees translates just about perfectly (rebounding) and being an above the rim, freakish athlete – who played harder than everyone else. Concerns about his size (under 6’8 in shoes), performing at Morehead State and being a senior led to his fall. He went on to finish 3rd in rookie of the year voting and to play meaningful minutes for Denver in the playoffs.

Even despite this, Faried may be missed on again. What I mean by this, is how nobody’s talking about what happens next to Faried’s career. It’s generally assumed he is what he is, an elite “energy” big man off the bench. The other three players who finished top 4 in rookie of the year voting – Kyrie Irving, Ricky Rubio and Kawhi Leonard have drawn more optimistic predictions about all-star upsides.

However, history is on Faried’s side. Here is the list of players who’ve finished with a PER higher than 21 in their rookie season, with a minimum of 1000 minutes played.

1. Wilt Chamberlain (1959-1960): 28.0

2. Walt Bellamy (1961-1962): 26.3

3. David Robinson (1989-1990): 26.3

4. Oscar Robertson (1960-1961): 25.9

5. Michael Jordan (1984-1985): 25.8

6. Arvydas Sabonis (1995-1996): 24.7

7. Bob Pettit (1954-1955): 24.4

8. Elgin Baylor (1958-1959): 23.6

9. Shaquille O’Neal (1992-1993): 22.9

10. Terry Cummings (1982-1983): 22.8

11. Ray Felix (1953-1954): 22.7

12. Tim Duncan (1997-1998): 22.6

13. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1969-1970): 22.5

14. Chris Paul (2005-2006): 22.1

15. Walter Davis (1977-1978): 22.1

16. Maurice Stokes (1955-1956): 22.1

17. Blake Griffin (2010-2011): 21.9

18. Kenneth Faried (2011-2012): 21.9

19. Chris Webber (1993-1994): 21.7

20. Alvan Adams (1975-1976): 21.7

21. John Drew (1974-1975): 21.4

22. Kyrie Irving (2011-2012): 21.4

23. Marques Johnson (1977-1978): 21.3

24. Hakeem Olajuwon (1984-1985): 21.1

Clearly, that’s impressive company. How impressive? Of the 24, 21 are all-stars: Faried and Irving are 2 of the ones who aren’t, and the other is Arvydas Sabonis, who most assume would have been an MVP contender, let alone an all-star, if he had been in the NBA during his healthy and athletic prime. Of those remaining 21, 19 made at least 2 all-star games, with Ray Felix and Alvan Adams ending at 1 appearance. Felix’s rookie and all-star season came in 1953-1954, significant because it was the last season before the shot-clock was implicated, thus not an ideal comparison. Adams also made the all-star game as a rookie and never made it back, but the Suns felt he was a significant enough player to retire his jersey. Of the 19 players who aren’t Faried, Irving, Sabonis, Felix or Adams, 16 of them made 3 or more all-star games, one of the players who missed the cut being Blake Griffin (who will get to 3 all-star games barring a career ending injury), the other two Terry Cummings and John Drew.

Perhaps even more impressively, of the 24 players, 17 of them have made an All-NBA team or higher, in fact all at least 2nd-team or higher. That 7 players who didn’t includes Faried, Irving, Sabonis, and Felix, all of whom have reasons for being exceptions, leaving Hall of Famer Walt Bellamy, Alvan Adams and John Drew as the other 3.

What about statistically? Here is a list of all the players on the list leaving out Faried, Irving, Griffin, Stokes (only played 3 years in the NBA before getting a brain injury and retiring), Sabonis and Felix, by what their peak PER was in the league (minimum 40 games) and its difference from their rookie season’s PER:

Wilt Chamberlain (1961-1962) – 31.8 (+3.8)

Walt Bellamy – (1961-1962) – 26.3 (rookie season)

David Robinson (1993-1994) – 30.7 (+3.4)

Oscar Robertson (1963-1964) – 27.6 (+1.8)

Michael Jordan (1987-1988) – 31.7 (+5.9)

Bob Pettit (1958-1959) – 28.2 (+3.8)

Elgin Baylor (1960-1961) – 28.2 (+4.6)

Shaquille O’Neal (1999-2000) – 30.6 (+7.7)

Terry Cummings (1982-1983) – 22.8 (rookie season)

Tim Duncan (2003-2004) – 27.1 (+4.5)

Kareem Abdul Jabbar (1971-1972) – 29.9 (+7.4)

Chris Paul (2008-2009) – 30.0 (+7.9)

Walter Davis (1978-1979) – 23.0 (+0.9)

Chris Webber (2000-2001) – 24.7 (+3.0)

Alvan Adams (1975-1976) – 21.7 (rookie season)

John Drew (1975-1976) – 25.3 (+3.9)

Marques Johnson (1978-1979) – 23.9 (+2.6)

Hakeem Olajuwon (1992-1993) – 27.3 (+6.2)

These numbers add up to an average of a peak year +3.7 in PER from their rookie seasons. Adding 3.7 to Faried’s rookie PER of 21.9 would take it to 25.6, a range reserved for superstars.

Now one could make a case against Faried by starting that of these 24 players, he easily played the least of the group his rookie season at just 1037 minutes. Everyone else except Sabonis and Irving played at least 2289 minutes. This is because a combination of the lockout’s shortened season and sitting on the bench early in the season. However Faried’s mark of 22.5 minutes per game is fairly decent, if he had played 82 games at that mark, he’d have broken 1800 minutes.

What it comes down to though, is not an argument that Faried is a lock to be a star player, but simply that it’s plausible he is one and that he has the “upside” to. Considering he’d be an outlier for rookies this productive if he wasn’t an multi-time all-star and All-NBA player, it certainly makes sense to say it’s at least in the realm of possibility he surprises people again.

Getting past the stats, what can Faried’s game tell us about his upside? We know he’s an athletic freak and we know he’s somewhat short. What may be underrated about Faried’s rookie season is that he was far from a stiff offensively. For one thing, a player doesn’t average over 16 points and .62 TS% per 36 minutes, just by cleaning up baskets with stone hands. Watching some clips of Faried, one thing that sticks out to me is an underrated ballhandling game. This clip:

… Shows nice examples of Faried taking players off the dribble in a face-up position and looking like he has a solid feel for the game offensively doing it. One reason Faried’s efficiency was exceptional his rookie year was an extremely high free throw drawing rate for his volume of shots. Strong ballhandling could be a reason for this. Here is another clip from his career high game against Golden State, showing a repertoire including post moves/hook shots and other examples of craftiness and touch around the basket.

What Faried’s combination of freakish athleticism, agility, touch and ballhandling is somewhat reminiscent of, may actually be young versions of Amar’e Stoudemire and Blake Griffin. Now but wait you may say, what about his size? It’s true that Faried is under 6’8 in shoes, but he makes up for it with a long wingspan and standing reach. Length matters more than the height of your head in basketball for a big, as the most useful part of height (vision) is more important for playmakers. Amazingly, Faried’s standing reach according to Draftexpress.com’s database (9’0) measured 3 inches taller than Blake Griffin’s (8’9) and half an incher shorter than Amare’s (9’0.5). Reach of other noteable PFs include David Lee at 8’10.5, Josh Smith at 8’10.5 and Chris Bosh at 9’1. Compared to all these bigs, Faried’s 9’0 doesn’t seem like a disadvantage at all. While being undersized may make him more of an injury threat, Faried’s combination of length and explosiveness allows him to quite easily play above the rim, which is what the value of length really comes down to.

So will Faried be a star player like Griffin and Amar’e? I can’t truly say. But based on the numbers and analysis of his game – I would say he has the “upside” to become a star PF on that level.

Written by jr.

September 13, 2012 at 2:27 pm

One Response

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  1. Faried is going to explode this season. With him, Iggy and Lawson, Nuggets are going to be dangerous.


    September 13, 2012 at 6:11 pm

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