Kenneth Faried entered the league as an undersized, but explosive, power forward whose tenacity on the glass, high-flying dunks and absurd athleticism seemed to make up for the fact that he didn’t have many other discernible skills on the court. As his skills diminished in value and power—coupled with the fact that he didn’t have a reliable jump shot—he was relegated to a bench role for his later years on the Nuggets, and his time with the Nets. But he’s gotten off to a strong start with the Houston Rockets since signing there, and it doesn’t seem like he’ll be slowing down anytime soon.
In his latest outing with his new team, Faried put up 21 points (8-of-11 from the field), 14 rebounds and two blocks in 38 minutes against the Toronto Raptors on Friday. The Manimal brought the type of energy you’d expect with a high-octane player looking to prove something, but it went beyond his usual dunks and offensive boards.
On offense, Faried did an excellent job serving as a Clint Capela-lite option for James Harden on pick-and-roll plays. Despite being a couple inches removed from the injured big man’s stature, Faried’s athleticism allowed him to get past guards that were switched on him to get in position to score at the rim. He was also able to take advantage of the fact that Serge Ibaka was often used to double Harden in the post, which left the forward open for some easy dunks.
But the standout plays came on the defensive end. In the instances where Faried was switched onto Kawhi Leonard, the Houston forward was able to disrupt his opponent enough to force some awful shots, and useful turnovers.
Did it help that the Raptors were a useless mess on offense until the final couple minutes of regulation? Certainly! But when put up to the task of defending one of the league’s elite talents, Faried did what he had to do. Perhaps a better example of what his defensive usage will be focused on is demonstrated with the help defense he provided all night. The forward was ready on a moment’s notice to swoop in and get key blocks so that the on-ball defense his teammates provided did not go to waste.
All of those defensive stops turned out to be pretty important down the stretch as the Rockets blew an 11-point lead with 1:14 remaining in regulation and were only saved by a surprisingly tough defensive effort from Harden on the final play to sneak away with a 121-119 win.
Faried obviously isn’t a long-term solution the Rockets were hoping to lean on. In fact, it’d be fair to assume that Houston believed he was just a low-cost rental that would prevent the team from completely floundering during this injury-plagued stretch of games. But given that the NBA has gotten considerably smaller, even throughout the duration of Faried’s career, the team might have accidentally stumbled upon a player that could serve as a useful big as the season progresses. As long as Houston doesn’t expect him to get 20-and-10 every night, this opportunity might just be what Faried needs to jumpstart his career.