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Kenneth Faried's Struggles Flying in the Face of $50M Extension with Nuggets

Stephen Babb@@StephenBabbFeatured ColumnistDecember 11, 2014

BOULDER, CO - OCTOBER 21: Kenneth Faried #35 of the Denver Nuggets before the game against the Portland Trail Blazers on October 21, 2014 at the Coors Event Center in Boulder, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)
Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

Kenneth Faried's return from a lower back strain on Wednesday night, according to to The Denver Post's Christopher Dempsey, isn't quite as momentous as it should be.

In the wake of October's four-year, $50 million extension and a starring performance with Team USA at this summer's FIBA World Cup, the 25-year-old appeared poised for a breakout season. Instead, he's on pace for what may be his worst.

Through 19 appearances, the fourth-year veteran is averaging just 11.1 points and a career-worst 6.7 rebounds per contest. The 51.2 percent of field-goal attempts he's making would also represent a career low, and Faried's 25.6 minutes per game are the fewest he's averaged since his rookie season in 2011-12.

After a month of uneven output, the Morehead State product described his play as "awful" to Dempsey.

"I just haven't been playing my game," he told Dempsey in late November. "I know it. My teammates know it. My coaches know it. Hopefully, this month of December, I turn everything around. But for me, it's awful. You've got to be able to look at yourself, look at the man in the mirror and say that to yourself. And be able to correct yourself."

Faried's 2014-15 Season Compared to Career (Per 36 Min)
PTSFG%REBASTSTLBLK
2014-15 (19 games)15.651.29.41.61.00.7
Career16.355.111.51.41.21.3
NBA.com

Faried's slow start is a bit baffling. Aside from point guard Ty Lawson, he's almost certainly the Denver Nuggets' closest thing to an emerging star.

DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 21: Kenneth Faried #35 of the Denver Nuggets goes up for a shot against the New Orleans Pelicans on November 21, 2014 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading
Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

And the fact he'll soon be paid like one hasn't been lost on Faried, as he told to Dempsey last month:

I've got to just deal with the fact that I'm that type of player now. Next year, I start getting paid that type of money, so I can't be making the mistakes that I've been making. Or not doing what I usually do, or what got me the contract. I've got to focus back in and get, not even just rebounding and scoring, just find my love for the game like I always had.

Perhaps it's a bit easier to find that love when the best of USA Basketball is at your side. Life with the sub.-500 Nuggets is a different story.

Indeed, Faried is the kind of player who could thrive alongside a star scorer or two. His energy and explosiveness allow him to cause plenty of havoc while others have the ball in their hands. So we probably shouldn't be surprised that he shined during FIBA competition in Spain.

As NBCSports.com's Kurt Helin recently put it, "[Faried] was the glue guy [for Team USA], the energy guy on a team full of stars, and when the defenses focused on those bigger names, he picked up a lot of easy buckets and rebounds going against the kind of competition he could overwhelm with athleticism."

Faried's opportunities have been fewer and farther between without all that elite talent at his side, but he certainly hasn't been pointing any fingers. Officially, this is a Faried problem, and he's going to have to solve it.

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 16: Kenneth Faried #35 of the Denver Nuggets reacts after being fouled in the first half during a game against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on November 16, 2014 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowl
Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

That seems to be head coach Brian Shaw's basic message. Earlier this month, he told reporters:

Obviously, he's disappointed in the way he's played up to this point. There hasn't been a level of consistency. One of the things that I try to remind him all the time is what made him, got him to this level, got him paid recently, is the fact that he’s always brought energy and always rebounded the ball. When you look at his stats up to this point, is the energy always there? I wouldn't say that it consistently has been. But even before that, is he rebounding the ball the way he is known for rebounding the ball? He's not doing that either. So no matter what happens, you get back to the basics of what got you here. And I think that's what he has to do.

The basics have always been Faried's strong suit. His relentless motor makes him a dynamic threat in transition and on the offensive glass. So long as he's doing the little things that put him in position to succeed, the numbers should follow.

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 2:  Kenneth Faried #35 of the Denver Nuggets and Wesley Matthews #2 of the Portland Trail Blazers battle for position on December 2, 2014 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees t
Bart Young/Getty Images

That doesn't mean he'll be taking games over anytime soon.

Faried doesn't have a wide arsenal of offensive weapons. He's not a great shooter and sometimes finds himself overmatched by longer defenders, especially with his back to the basket. Even at his best, Faried can only create so much of his own offense.

Our expectations should take that into account, even with a lucrative contract extension raising the stakes.

Faried can get away with averaging around 12 points, and it's hard to complain about any 50-plus field-goal percentage. One shouldn't overstate the downturn in his numbers—there hasn't been a precipitous collapse. The better measure is whether Faried is getting his usual haul of rebounds and impacting games with his effort on both ends of the floor. 

He's not there quite yet.

And while Shaw may have you believe the onus is on Faried, the real story is probably more complicated. Put yourself in Faried's shoes and try making sense of the fact his playing time is down from a season ago and still well under 30 minutes per contest.

"It's not a bad thing to have a deep team, but sometimes it kind of leaves things up in the air for players," Faried told USA Today's Adi Joseph this month. "You really don't have time to feel the game out. You got to get going right away, or someone else will take your place."

If Faried's passion for the game is really what's at issue here, a few extra minutes may go a long way toward soliciting added buy-in.

Whatever the solution—and whoever's ultimately responsible for finding it—these Nuggets aren't going far unless their latest investment pays off in a big way. 

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