George Karl doesn't play rookies. Karl's Nuggets drafted Kenneth Faried with the 22nd pick of the 2011 NBA Draft. Faried, an impressive prospect at Morehead State, immediately tumbled down draft boards. The most important fantasy statistic is minutes, after all.
Faried's play at Morehead State in his final season as a collegiate player was well worth drooling over. The standout forward averaged 17.3 points per game and 14.5 rebounds per game, shot 62.3 percent from the field, and led the Eagles to their first NCAA tournament win (as well as a second) since 1961. But then the Nuggets drafted Faried, and then it became quickly apparent Faried just would not see the court. Because, after all, George Karl doesn't play rookies.
To be specific, since Karl came to Denver in 2004, just four rookies had seen anything close to significant playing time (more than ten minutes per game). Two were "rookies" who had significant experience with foreign professional teams: 24-year-old Yokhouba Diawara in 2006-07, and 25-year-
old Gary Forbes in 2010-11. The other was Ty Lawson, who was still shackled to just 20.2 minutes per game despite averaging 14.8 points and 5.6 assists per 36 minutes while shooting 51.5 percent from the field.
This year, however, Karl's hand has been forced. Only Al Harrington and Andre Miller have played in all 45 of the Nuggets' games. Timofey Mozgov has played just 33. Nene played just 28 before heading to Washington in a trade for JaVale McGee -- surely his health was a factor in the deal. And as such, we now see Kenneth Faried not only playing -- 25 games, at 19.6 minutes per -- but starting them. With 18 starts so far, Faried is just one away from tying Diawara for the most by a Nugget in the Karl era.
Although the health of his teammates is largely responsible for Faried finding his way onto the floor in the first place, his play is keeping him on it. The Nuggets haven't asked Faried to take a ton of shots -- they have Harrington for that -- but he has found a way to produce when the ball finds him, be it through making shots at the cup or grabbing rebounds like a madman. Faried owns a fantastic 59.4 percent mark from the field largely due to his ability to get inside -- 4.0 of his 5.6 shots per game come
at the rim. His ability to corral rebounds is elite as well -- Faried is one of just eight players with 300 minutes played and a total rebound rate (total rebounds divided by missed shots while on the floor) over 20 percent.
Faried's combination of brutal inside efficiency and incredible rebounding ability is something we rarely see from NBA rookies:
Above is a table listing all of the rookies since 1946-47 to record 15 minutes per game, a field goal percentage above 55 percent and a total rebound rate above 20 percent. All four aside from Faried.
It's an odd group. Shaq and Williams were bona fide stars, amassing 15 All-Star appearances between them. Oden very easily could have been a star had injuries not derailed his career; his per-minute career numbers (15.3 points, 11.9 rebounds per 36 minutes, mostly at age 21) were excellent. Blair is more of a specialist, and this will be the question with Faried. Can he develop skills beyond simply clogging the middle and cleaning up whatever is directed toward him?
His full development remains to be seen, but Faried seems to be a perfect fit for Karl's pace-pushing offense. The Nuggets thrive on transition, and Faried is an alley-oop waiting to happen on turnovers, misses, and in the half-court, the Faried has found a way to make things happen off cuts to the basket. According to Synergy Sports, these plays make up 38.1 percent of Faried's offensive action and the 22-year-old is shooting 39-for-63 (61.9 percent) in them. Throw in a bit of pick-and-roll and post action
(19.1 percent of plays, 57.1 percent shooting) and Faried has a diverse enough game to consistently produce on the offensive end already.
This year, Faried's fantasy value likely remains depressed, as Karl doesn't appear ready to hand himthe reins to the power forward position completely. Although Faried hasn't played fewer than 16 minutes since February 19th, he also has logged just three games with more than 30 minutes. Still, Faried is one of the best rebounders available on the waiver wire (owned in just 34 percent of Yahoo leagues) regardless of minutes played. He also adds hyper-efficient scoring, blocks (one per game since February 6th) and even some steals (0.8 per game since February 6th).
Once he starts getting real minutes, Kenneth Faried could become one of the league's top fantasy bigs, averaging nearly 20 points and almost certainly over 10 rebounds per game. The fact that George Karl has even played him as a rookie indicated something special. His play has proven the rest.