With a constantly changing role and various injuries that limited him to only 61 games, Kenneth Faried went through an up-and-down season in Denver. From opening night onward, his starting spot was stripped from him, as Denver attempted to play Nikola Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic together, and tried to fit Faried into a role as the backup center -- one that didn't play to his strengths.
Faried then returned to the starting lineup on Nov. 12 but was playing alongside the paint-centric Nurkic and not the versatile Jokic. That too ended in failure and less than a month later Faried was sent back to the bench where he was forced to continue to try and coexist with Nurkic.
Finally, on Jan. 16, Michael Malone paired Faried with Jokic and Denver's offense exploded. Faried's role was as volatile as any Nuggets player on the roster this season but he handled it with class and found his perfect fit alongside Jokic. From that moment on, Faried had arguably his most effective season to date.
Faried finished the year with his lowest per-game stats since his rookie season -- 9.6 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 0.9 assists on 54.8 percent from the field and 69.3 percent from the free-throw line -- which can be explained his low minute totals. Faried played the least amount of minutes since his rookie year.
Harrison: It seemed like the writing was on the wall for Faried over the past three seasons as it appeared his future would not be in Denver, but the 27-year-old put together his most complete season to date this year. With Jokic's emergence, Mason Plumlee and Juancho Hernangomez's arrivals, and Wilson Chandler's return to health, Faried averaged only 21.2 minutes per game, the least amount of minutes he's played since his rookie season.
Joel: Although Faried essentially remained the player he always has been, he was put further out of his comfort zone than he had ever been by seeing his role further reduced and being called upon to play center for significant stretches. And while the results of that were frankly disastrous (the Nuggets had a net rating of -10.2 with Faried on, and Jokic, Nurkic, and Plumlee off the court), he played hard despite being out of position. More importantly, the chemistry he developed with Jokic was a key part of Denver's stunning offensive success.
Kalen: Much like Darrell Arthur, Faried saw a drastic reduction in his playing time and put up career lows in major statistical categories across the board, yet he fell in line, played the best defense of his career and played his best basketball in the most crucial moments of the season. You can’t really ask for much more than that, especially from someone who’s struggled in those areas in years past.
T.J.: Not only did Faried handle his chaotic season with class and professionalism, but he found a renewed vigor on both ends of the floor. By the eye test, this was Faried's most effort filled season since his rookie year and he was flying around every minute he was on the floor. Even though this season Faried attempted the second-least amount of shots in his career and played the second-least amount of minutes, he was able to be positive on both ends of the floor for the majority of the season.
What aspect of Faried's game did he improve on most this season?
Harrison: Consistency. The knock on Faried throughout his time with the Nuggets was that one night he'd energize his teammates and crowd with his play, but that wouldn't last for two of three games in a row. That changed for Faried this season. He put together the best defensive season of his career and proved that he can play a winning brand of basketball alongside Jokic. On offense, Faried shot 61.8 percent in the restricted area, right in line with his percentages over the past few seasons.
Joel: Attitude and teamwork. Offensively, Faried has often roamed like a rogue energy spark and cleanup man, but this season he learned to play within the flow of the offense exceptionally well and should get partial credit for Jokic's breakout success as a surprisingly good complementary fit. He also put forth greater effort defensively than before, and despite facing role adversity similar to Nurkic and Chandler, at least publicly accepted it with minimal complaint.
Kalen: Maturity. Faried took a big step in his development as a man. He finally played like he understood where to be on defense and was willing to put in the extra work to stop his opponents. Half the players in the NBA still struggle in this regard and I don’t think I’m alone in saying I thought Faried would never really take that next step. If he continues to give as much effort on defense as he does in crashing the glass he’ll drastically increase his value both for the Nuggets and on the open market.
T.J.: His pairing with Jokic. Together they put together freakish numbers and that bled into the rest of the team. They were Denver's best two-man pairing this season with an 110.1 defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) and a 121 offensive rating (point scored per 100 possessions) culminating into a 10.9 net rating. Faried's ability to play the short corner alongside Jokic gave Denver a huge advantage on the boards, both offensively and defensively, as well as added an extra athletic dimension that the Nuggets lost out on without him.
What does Faried need to work on this upcoming offseason?
Harrison: Pick-and-roll defense. Faried showed this year that he can be Denver's starting power forward alongside Jokic next season, but the Nuggets will have an opportunity to go after a couple big-name free agents this summer that could take his starting spot. I'd still project Faried as Denver's starter come next season but he'll have to adjust again to a bench role if Denver makes a big splash this summer. How he'll earn playing time if that situation comes about will be with his defense.
Joel: Mainly to continue building on the successful chemistry he established with Jokic. In many ways, Faried is who he is, and is unlikely to ever develop a reliable mid-range jumper or other unearthed skills, so continuing to build on his strengths and minimize his weaknesses is his best path forward.
Kalen: Defense. Though last year was a major step forward Faried still has long ways to go before coaches can rely on him consistently in big games. If he continues to mature and improve on defense he may even one day find himself as a major contributor on a title contender.
T.J.: Continuing to get better fundamentally on defense. If Faried can learn to not hunt for weak-side blocks and dive for steals then he could be a solid defender. While I likely sound like a broken record of years past, it does seem that Faried found a renewed aggression on the defensive end. If he can become more sound fundamentally he could become a constant positive on the defensive end of the floor.