Image via Detroit Bad Boys.
Image via Detroit Bad Boys.
Kenneth Faried doesn’t dunk like he’s supposed to. He’s a 6’8" power forward with a leonine burst of dreadlocks and enough kinetic energy in his little finger to give ‘Dray Blatche an epileptic seizure. Faried's body is sculpted and powerful and he can get off of the ground faster than anybody in the league not named Blake Griffin. In other words, Kenneth Faried was built to throw down on fools, to rattle the rim, to come crashing back down to the floor after a thunderous dunk and unleash a primal roar that would scare the shit out of any cameraman sitting close enough to get Faried’s spittle on his face. This is how Kenneth Faried is supposed to dunk, but it is not how he dunks.
Rather than bring sound and fury to the basketball court, Faried instead chooses to do something that at first glance might cause some to think of Faried as soft, or otherwise lacking in the necessary “grittiness” that his position seemingly requires. This is because when he does find himself flourishing his way through the final moments of a dunk, he yelps. I’m not even sure if “yelp” is the right way to describe the noise he makes, but it is certainly not a noise that one expects to hear in a sport which constantly sends machismo laden proclamations of “Get off me!” “Gimme dat shit!” and “Fuck outta here!” echoing through whatever arena is being played in that night.
So, does that tell us anything special about him? We’ll get to that.
“Energy guy” is a term that gets used a lot in the NBA, but its meaning ultimately rings as hollow as “crafty left hander” and “game manager” do in the MLB and NFL. We all know what an “energy guy” is supposed to look like, but it’s a description most often thrown out in lieu of anything truly meaningful to say about a player’s skill set. After all, aren’t all NBA players “energy guys?”
Faried’s game combats the inanity of this description.Faried really and truly never stops moving, which is a thing that's said about many NBA players. But Faried’s constant twitching and bouncing speaks less to nervous energy, as it does with most others, than it does to his oddly manic poise. There’s nothing reckless about Faried's perpetual motion. Rather, he seems to be keeping himself ready to make his next explosive lunge or leap across the court. He has the rare ability never to stop running or shuffling his feet while simultaneously maintaining a measured precision in his movements. There are other players, like Paul Milsap for example, that play in a similar fashion, but their ability to combine precision with raw energy isn’t as heightened as Faried’s, and the contrast between Milsap's more polished game and Faried's ultra-kinetic, bare-bones one heightens the effect.
On April 9th, Faried played just 24 minutes against the Warriors, but racked up 27 points, 17 rebounds (7 of them on offense), as well as a pair of steals and a block; he connected on 12 of 18 shots. Faried spent the entire game—or the half of it in which he was the most dominant player on the floor—flying over and slithering through the Warriors’ frontcourt. He was always at the rim when he needed to be there; he was, per usual, always moving, and more importantly, always moving in the right direction, anticipating and reacting and pushing against the seams of the game. Energy and effort alone can’t produce a stat line that astronomically efficient. It takes a focused and precise mania to put up numbers like that.
As a rookie, Faried has shown himself capable of being as much a technician as he is a berserker. This is never more clear or dazzling than when Faried has found himself battling down low with Kevin Love—the personification of heady rebounding and a guy who could give a shit about how high you can jump—and watching him box out and fight for position with Love as few others in the league are capable of doing. Faried recognizes the angles at which shots will come off the rim as well as anyone in the league, and he isn’t easily beaten to his spot. The dervish routine is guided and calibrated by a fine-tuned basketball intellect.
Even Faried’s offensive game, which isn’t yet very deep or nuanced, is marked by his ability to focus his energy. When he receives the ball in the post, he doesn’t waste time with head fakes or jab steps as he tries to decide what he wants to do. He makes his move immediately and with tremendous force, often catching his defender by surprise and overwhelming them into committing fouls. As a result, Faried has averaged six free throw attempts per 36 minutes this year, which is pretty impressive for a power forward without any real offensive polish.
Already, Faried is a rare and unique specimen in the NBA. The league isn’t used to reckoning with players that are able to combine maturity and energy in such a way. If players like JaVale McGee and Nick Collison will continue to exist in opposing poles, Faried lives, comfortably, on both coasts. But it’s not just Faried’s ability to exist within the tension between precision and power that makes him so compelling. There is something else going on that makes him stand out from all of the others around the league who play similar roles. Which brings us back to that yelp.
The yelp isn’t a sign of weakness or lack of tenacity, it’s a glimpse into what truly seems to drive Faried on the court: Joy. He plays the game with a palpable delight that seems out of place in a man attempting to make a living out of tussling in the NBA’s trenches. Most big men in the league bring with them a certain edge and nastiness on the court, and it is this edge that helps fuel their performance. Think of how many times a player like Udonis Haslem or Kendrick Perkins has scowled and chest-pounded by way of celebration after blocking a shot or emerging from a scrum underneath the basket. Think, too, of how difficult it is to blame them for this: that's their gig, and their milieu, and a certain nastiness is the coin of that bruising realm. they exist in a world where flying elbows and forearm chops are a constant threat. Faried is plenty tough, and as likely to swat a shot or stride out of a wreck under the hoop as any of his peers, but where others choose to woof and roar, Faried yelps—chirps, almost—at the surprising and immediate happiness that comes from being young and flying through the air.
It’s not just the yelp that oozes with Faried’s joy, though. During that same game against the Warriors, Faried twice used his quickness to take hard charges from a stampeding David Lee. On each occasion, Faried sprung up from the floor and ran towards the other end of the court with a smile on his face, even when one of the collisions left him with a bloody lip. It wasn’t a preening or sly smile, either, like one you might see Russell Westbrook wear after dunking on a much larger man. There was no extraneous bravado or implied taunt in Faried’s smile. Enough but not too much of each, sure, but also the happiness that comes with being unable to imagine anything more fun than getting to run, jump, and get knocked on one’s ass for a living. That’s precisely what is so lovable about Faried. He rushes headlong into the game’s ugly underbelly, absorbs the elbows digging into his ribs and giants crashing into his hips, and smiles at all of it.