NBA veteran point guard Earl Watson used a few choice words two years ago to describe Denver Nuggets power forward Kenneth Faried after playing with him in the vaunted UCLA summer run: "He's a beast, an absolute monster."
But the kid from the streets of Newark, N.J., and little-known Newark Technology High School had a tough start. He wasn't a McDonald's All-American or an All-State selection, and recruiting services like Rivals and ESPN.com didn't even give him a one-star rating. Before he signed with Morehead State, local schools like Iona and Marist -- not bigger names like Duke or UCLA -- showed interest.
At 6 feet 8 inches tall and the NCAA's all-time leader in rebounding (surging ahead of Tim Duncan), Faried led Morehead to its first NCAA Tournament win in nearly three decades over Louisville, not counting the 2009 play-in victory over Alabama State. He should have been a lottery pick in the 2011 draft. But scouts and general managers were worried that he was too small and inexperienced, and rated him lower than seldom-used forwards like Jan Vesely, Chris Singleton, Tobias Harris and Donatas Motiejunas.
Throughout the draft process, his lack of size continued to be an issue, as respected player analysis sites noted. "Undersized both in height and weight to play the 4 position at the NBA level," NBADraft.net wrote. "While Faried offers clear value as a rebounder, the way the rest of his game translates to the NBA are a bit murkier," DraftExpress.com added.
When Faried slipped to 22, the Nuggets snatched him up, and taking that chance has paid off. When Denver took the Lakers to seven games during last year's postseason, it was Faried who stood out to coach George Karl.
"They're beating up Kenneth Faried and it's making us tougher," Karl told The Denver Post. "We're seeing that kid stand up to all their cheap shots. Faried just gets right back up and stands up and is stronger and stronger ... It's something that I don't remember a rookie having that influence in a long time on the toughness and energy of the game."
Faried is shown here battling Lakers' center Pau Gasol.
Aptly nicknamed "The Manimal," Faried is the only player in the league under 6 feet 9 inches to rank in the top 15 of rebounding, despite playing less than 30 minutes per game. More importantly, he has already significantly improved both his basketball acumen and skills after just one season. His free throw and overall field goal percentage have dipped slightly, but his shooting percentage from 10-15 feet has increased from 19 to 32 percent, per Hoopdata.com, and both his Efficiency Rating and Win Shares have improved. In November, he earned Western Conference Player of the Week honors when he posted averages of 17 points and 13 rebounds during a four-game stretch.
Faried has also become a leader off the court. He recently became the first NBA player to join the Gay Rights Sports Group.
He still struggles to defend stretch 4s behind the 3-point line, especially in transition, because he's so focused on protecting the paint. And he has yet to create a true post-up game for the offense to play through. It's hard to imagine, though, that Faried won't develop into a reliable threat.
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