As is the case every time Team USA is forced to make cuts to get their roster down to a specific number for an international competition, some very good players were left at home this summer when the National Team departed for the 2014 Basketball World Cup. A tragic injury ended Paul George’s summer and Kevin Durant withdrew from the team to focus on his new contract negotiations, but even with those two big names involuntarily out of the selection pool, USA Basketball Chairmain Jerry Colangelo still had to leave Damian Lillard, Chandler Parsons, John Wall, Bradley Beal and Gordon Hayward, among others, off his final roster.
Even though Team USA is loaded at point guard with Kyrie Irving, Derrick Rose and Stephen Curry representing the United States in Spain, it will still surprising to see both Wall and Lillard left off the final roster, and either Parsons or Hayward seemed to be a lock to make the team to provide a hybrid forward option. Instead, Colangelo prioritized big men and brought Andre Drummond, DeMarcus Cousins, Mason Plumlee and Kenneth Faried with him to accompany superstar Anthony Davis.
Without a doubt, Plumlee is the most surprising member of the squad, given that he just completed his first season in the NBA and has very little on his resume other than some solid defensive chops and a strong recommendation from Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski. Of course, Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski is also USA Basketball Coach Mike Krzyzewski, so that recommendation goes a long way.
Past Plumlee, though, Kenneth Faried is the selection least likely to catch on with common NBA fans. After all, ever since the Dream Team, Team USA rarely throws out a line-up without a superstar at every position, and Faried’s inclusion on the roster as well, as his spot in the starting line-up, doesn’t quite move the needle in the way that we’re used to with this team. But that doesn’t mean it was the wrong move. On a team full of stars, most of whom operate as the first or second options with their domestic clubs, having someone like Faried that lives to do the dirty work creates a balance between talent and grit that is necessary on a team that will always garner the opposition’s best effort.
It goes without saying that Faried was far from a lock to make the team when he came into camp. Outside of those that had previously suited up for Team USA in a major international competition, everyone that was in Las Vegas when training camp tipped off was fighting for a spot. And though he may not stand out above his NBA peers when doing an evaluation based on pure talent, when you are looking to construct what will end up being a super team no matter how you slice it and your selection process includes intersquad scrimmages, you’re giving a great shot to a player like Faried to force himself onto the roster.
Faried thrives in a training camp environment. Not only because it offers him an outlet for his pent up energy on a daily basis, but also because his ceaseless activity makes every practice feel like a playoff game. If anybody on the floor is just going through the motions, Faried is going to show them up, and with every loose ball that he chased down and with every rebound he grabbed during camp, he moved himself up the depth chart and above the names that ended up being crossed out.
Just a couple of days into the Vegas training camp, Colangelo was asked about what kind of players he was looking to fill out his roster with, and he went out of his way to praise Faried and the attitude he brought to the floor.
“We’re going to end up with some specialists,” Colangelo said. “Now, I’ll just use a name. He may or may not be that guy, but Faried … Energy, rebounding. We looked at tapes of yesterday’s scrimmage. He came in and, within a minute, he was responsible for six points for his team, getting two offensive rebounds, getting out on the break.”
Faried did up being that guy, or at least one of them since Kevin Durant’s unexpected withdrawal opened up another roster spot in the late stages of camp. Faried impressed the coaching staff by never taking a play off and by making sure that he was always working harder than everyone else on the court. And you can bet that he was keeping track of who was letting their guard down.
“It helps me to see how certain guys work everyday and how they get after it,” Faried said about being around his NBA peers. “I just want to see the way these guys approach the game. To see if they approach the game the way I do or if they are lackadaisical.”
Faried creates his own edge in this way. He feeds on the lethargy of his opponents and feasts on the unsuspecting. Routine and uncontested rebounds become backyard brawls with Faried around; his ample athleticism and uncanny desire will put him in places nobody expects him to be, his always revved motor empowering him to maximize his athletic talents. He earns everything that is given to him, and that includes his spot in this team. As he puts it, if he was working harder than guys in camp, then they really didn’t want a spot on the team.
“Because when you are not working as hard when you are in the position you are,” Faried says, “that means you don’t really want that position.”
Faried is far from a perfect player. He has flaws that are often exposed in the NBA realm. He lacks range offensively, he’s frequently out of place defensively and he’s not much more than a finisher on the offensive end. He has limitations that saddle him in the “role player” category, although he’s a productive one. The thing is, Team USA doesn’t necessarily need perfect players up and down their roster, not when you have three of the best point guards in the world, a budding Hall-of-Famer in Anthony Davis, and potent scorers like Klay Thompson and James Harden. Those guys are going to carry the scoring burden, which means there is definitely a need for someone like Faried to supplement them with his energy, rebounding and improving off-ball movement on offense.
Through two games in Spain, Faried is averaging 13 rebounds per 40 minutes, one of the top marks in the tournament, and he was Team USA’s best player in their unexpectedly competitive game against Turkey, putting up 22 points on 11-of-14 shooting while pulling down eight rebounds (three offensive), nabbing three steals and blocking two shots. It’s already abundantly clear that Faried is a crucial player for this team and he’ll be entrusted with the task of guarding one of the Gasol brothers if Team USA winds up facing Spain in the gold medal game.
And though winning gold has become somewhat of a formality for Team USA, there’s no denying that an experience like this can have a profound impact on young players like Faried, and he knows that better than anybody.
“This is going to boost everything about me,” Faried said. “My intelligence, my basketball IQ, my leadership, my feel for the game. Even my passion for the game.”
“People say I’m passionate enough,” Faried continued. “But this is going to make me even more hungry.”
A man with Faried’s drive and energy saying that he’s still got an appetite for intensity? No wonder they call him the Manimal.