Determining Team USA's frontcourt rotation is among coach Mike Krzyzewski's biggest chores heading into his team's exhibition schedule. DeMarcus Cousins' tweaked knee made things more difficult this week, requiring Anthony Davis to line up at center against a physical Brazilian national team. It also gave Denver Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried an opportunity to solidify his place on the 12-man World Cup roster.
Faried was Krzyzewski's starting power forward in USA Basketball's 95-78 win against Brazil on Saturday, and he made a strong case to be a big part of whatever rotation Coach K rolls with from here on out. The Nuggets forward scored 11 points, led the Americans with nine rebounds and posted a plus-minus of plus-27 in just 23 minutes of play, according to John Schuhmann of NBA.com.
USA plus-minus from last night. They were pretty darn good with Kenneth Faried on the floor: pic.twitter.com/d1WRDKm3Tu
— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) August 17, 2014
Maybe circumstance allowed Faried to be included in the starting lineup, but once there he showed that he could back up his promotion with production.
Second-year center Mason Plumlee, who has been criticized for even making it through cuts to this point, was the first true center used as Cousins sat, and that was Exhibit A when it came to acknowledging the thin frontcourt. Pistons center Andre Drummond received a DNP, though Krzyzewski could give him a look in one of the remaining exhibition games.
Faried handled the Brazilian frontcourt of Tiago Splitter and Nene well enough. He provided a little offense with his trademarked righty hook shot and surprisingly led all his teammates with an individual offensive rating of 138 points per 100 possessions. Of course, Faried did his usual work on the glass.
Against Brazil, Faried posted a defensive rating of 79. The undersized power forward's ability to switch on pick-and-roll coverage could be coveted against smaller teams, and at minimum, he could be a necessity if USA runs into Spain, its biggest nemesis in both size and significance.
The worry about Faried's game as part of Team USA hinged on what we already knew. He's a limited offensive player who can't do much outside of the block. But it's possible his national team won't need more from him. The depleted center and power forward positions could throw Faried into a role that accentuates the team's strengths. In the fullcourt, he's a threat to beat less athletic big men down the court. In the halfcourt, he'll be hunting for shots in the paint away from the remaining USA frontcourt players. Davis has the mid-range game that allows Faried to operate in the low post, and at most times there will be four players on the court who want to command the ball.
It's possible that Faried could even be used as an undersized center when Team USA faces smaller squads. That would allow Coach K's team to run up opponents' backs.
Faried's most obvious strength, his ability to provide energy, is the biggest need for Team USA when considering the underwhelming performance against Brazil. The Americans blew a 14-point lead after the first quarter and were outscored in each of the second and third quarters. It took Davis flying into the stands on a very Faried-like play to convince Coach K's squad to put a foot to Brazil's throat to start the fourth.
Faried's skill-set might be the least refined of any player left on the USA roster, but through one round of the exhibition schedule, he's proved that fit might be the most important aspect of putting together a squad inhibited by non-commitments, broken commitments and injury.
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