There are various ways in which a player can hit the absolute lowest point of his career.
Maybe he loses all of his sponsors, or maybe his team stops playing him or waives him despite a hefty contract. For Kenneth Faried, a lot had gone wrong in the past few years until he reached his lowest point.
Life on the court’s been hard for Faried since 2013. He had to man the ship as Denver fell from grace, then lost minutes as the team was regaining its ground. Then, the lowest point came either when the Nuggets included a first-round pick when they sent him to Brooklyn just to get him off their payroll, or when the Nets hardly gave him anything but garbage time minutes until they waived him. Either way, things had not been looking up for him in years.
To quote The Dark Knight’s Harvey Dent, “The night is darkest before the dawn.” This season was at one point been the darkest it’s ever been for Faried. Since his arrival in Houston, the dawn has arrived, and it’s been glorious for the one they call Manimal.
Faried signing with the Rockets was a match made in heaven for both sides. Houston desperately needed frontcourt depth after Clint Capela injured his thumb, and Faried desperately needed the chance to re-establish himself in the NBA. In the 14 games he’s played so far for his new club, Faried’s been playing the best ball of his career.
Over that span, Faried is averaging 16 points and 9.9 rebounds per game on nearly 61 percent shooting from the field, all of which are career-highs for the eight-year veteran.
The most interesting detail is, in that time, Kenneth has shown that he’s got some range. He’s hit five of an attempted 11 threes for the Rockets, which is good for 45.5 percent from distance. It’s a small sample size overall, but those numbers are being put to good use with everything that Houston’s had to go through.
What would that be exactly? One, the Western Conference playoff race, and two, the injuries they’ve had to endure.
The West has always been an extremely tight competition, but this season may take the cake for the most intense it’s ever been.
Think of it like this – there is an actual chance that the Lakers led by LeBron James – who is indisputably one of the best basketball players of all time and even at 34 is still the league’s best player – might not make the playoffs. There’s an even bigger chance that if the Lakers make the playoffs, they won’t make it past the first round. No matter how low you may think of the supporting cast they have around James, that’s still pretty impressive.
With the West being as tough as it is, teams can’t afford to lose anyone valuable. The Lakers’ season went into a tailspin after they lost LeBron on Christmas. No matter how good James Harden has been, would it have surprised anyone if the same had happened to the Rockets after they lost both Capela and Chris Paul?
Harden’s thermonuclear-like play of late has definitely mitigated Paul’s absence, but it was Faried who kept things afloat in the frontcourt when Capela went down.
Because of Faried, the Rockets managed to survive losing Capela for the last couple of weeks. That’s not an easy task. Without him, Houston would have had to rely on whatever’s left of Nene, Gary Clark and Isaiah Hartenstein. (Side note: Remember when they had Ryan Anderson?)
The Rockets’ offense is plus-11.7 when the Manimal has stepped on the court. To be fair, their defense is plus-10..5 on the court, but since Houston has the 25th-highest rated defense in the league right now (112.5), it’s fair to say that, while he’s not a godsend, he has been a stabilizer.
The Rockets have gone 8-6 since Faried’s arrival. That’s barely better than average, but given the circumstances, the fact that they have the fifth seed through all the turmoil looks good on the Manimal’s part. Now that the team is at full strength – especially Chris Paul, who looks back to normal after a mediocre start – there could be more improvement on the horizon, and it wouldn’t be crazy to say that Faried may have something to do with it.
With all new arrivals, getting fully acclimated takes time. Even though Kenneth’s numbers are probably going to falter with Capela back, he could get better from here. Note that Faried brings certain energy off the bench that Houston hasn’t really had since Nene from two years ago. The spark that he gives that the aging Nene can’t is rebounding, which is something that the Rockets have needed all season.
Houston’s rebounding is one of their fatal flaws. Covering that up could help their chances of overtaking the Warriors. The Rockets currently have the fourth-lowest rebounding average in the league right now, corralling 42.2 rebounds per game. That is the worst among teams in the West’s playoff picture, with Sacramento next up at the seventh lowest at 43.5. Houston has also allowed the ninth-highest average of offensive rebounds per game with 10.6.
The problem they had before Kenneth was that there was nobody who could replace Capela’s rebounding when he took a breather. Faried has a nose for the ball, which can help the Rockets’ rebounding issues. Houston also surrenders the 11th most second-chance points on average (13.7), which might play a role as to why their defensive rating is so porous. Faried’s individual defense isn’t too impressive as it is, but his rebounding instincts could clean up so many of these issues.
He already played a role in helping the Rockets manage through their injuries, but Kenneth Faried could bring so much more advantages to Houston. This couldn’t have worked better for the team itself, but Faried was the one who needed this more.
There’s been a theme this season of players who have experienced a rejuvenation after their value fell through the cracks over the past few years. Derrick Rose and Blake Griffin come to mind.
What differentiates Faried from them is that Griffin and Rose were still reasonably productive players even with everything that went wrong for them. Faried looked like he was on his way to Europe after his contract expired.
Now it appears that there is still very much a place for the Manimal in the NBA.
It just goes to show – one man’s trash could be another man’s final championship puzzle piece.
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