Posts Tagged ‘Denver Nuggets’

Morning shootaround — Oct. 22


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played Oct. 21

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Bryant shrugs off ESPN article | Reports: Magic, Vucevic nearing extension | Pacers have trouble finding offensive rhythm | Kaman suffers odd injury

No. 1: Kobe shrugs off article about him being a difficult teammate — If you somehow missed it the last few days or so, ESPN The Magazine recently published a big article on Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant as he enters the twilight of his career. The story contends that a big reason why the Lakers have had trouble in recent years landing marquee (or even middling) free agents is because other players are reluctant to play alongside Bryant. The story generated a lot of buzz yesterday and after the Lakers’ preseason loss to the Phoenix Suns, Bryant addressed the story’s main points. ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Jovan Buha has more:

In his first time speaking to media after an ESPN The Magazine article suggested that he played a significant role in the Lakers’ recent slide over the last few years, Bryant, known for speaking candidly, responded with a seemingly diplomatic answer.

“It’s not the first one and it won’t be the last one,” Bryant said following the Lakers’ 114-108 preseason overtime loss to the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday. “One thing I’ve come to understand over the years is that you’ll have a bad story that comes out on a Monday and it seems like it’s the end of the world and it seems like everybody’s taking shots at you. But time goes by and then you look back on it and it was just a Monday.

“Then you have another great story that comes out maybe a month later, or something like that, and it’s a fantastic story. And then there’s a bad story that comes out one month after that. So you understand that it’s a cycle, and things are never as good or as bad as they seem in the moment in time.”

Bryant continued, explaining his rationale behind remaining upbeat despite the current state of the Lakers franchise.

“Stay focused on the bigger picture and things are never as bleak as they seem at the time,” Bryant said. “I just kind of roll with it.”

Bryant’s teammate, guard Jeremy Lin, was also asked about the appeal of playing with Bryant, and had nothing but positive things to say.

“I’ve said it from the very beginning: What I’ve seen, my personal experience with him, which is the only thing I can speak on, it’s been great,” Lin said. “From Day 1, from the minute I was traded until now, it’s just been constantly him trying to be a leader, being a good leader, a communicator, teaching me, teaching me, teaching me and doing it in a mentorship-type way.”


VIDEO: Kobe Bryant scored 27 points in L.A.’s preseason loss to Phoenix

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Morning shootaround — Oct. 13


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played Oct. 13

NEWS OF THE MORNING

OKC trying to figure out its Plan B | Bryant mentoring in a new way | Jackson: Dolan won’t ‘meddle’ in roster moves | Shaw monitoring Lawson’s ankle injury

No. 1: OKC searching for lineup solution in wake of Durant injury — In case you were under a rock yesterday, the Oklahoma City Thunder received some tough news mid-morning that their superstar (and the NBA’s reigning MVP) Kevin Durant will be out 6-8 weeks with a stress-related fracture in his right foot. It’s tough news for that team to swallow, but they must move forward as the start of the season approaches. One of the most well-informed OKC observers, The Oklahoman‘s Darnell Mayberry, offers up this view on what may be next in Thunder-land:

There is no Plan B for losing the NBA’s leading scorer four times over to injury. Still, the Thunder must come up with one.

Quick.

Five preseason games might remain, but Oklahoma City’s season opener arrives two weeks from Wednesday. And the Thunder, remember, hasn’t even determined — or at least hasn’t announced — who’ll be this year’s starting shooting guard and center.

Now tack onto that the chore of figuring out who will be the starting small forward. Figuring out who will replicate Durant’s 32 points, 7.4 rebounds and 5.5 assists. Figuring out how to survive 20 games in the ruthless Western Conference.

“Replacing 30 points and high efficiency, that is not going to be easy,” Thunder GM Sam Presti said at a news conference discussing Durant’s injury Sunday. “It will be a collection of things.”

Presti pointed first to defense.

“One of the ways to improve your team and make up for loss offensively is to be play even better defensively and reduce the net rating between the offense and the defense,” Presti said.

Part of the shame in Durant going down will be the delayed unveiling of OKC’s revamped offense, which has looked phenomenal at times through two preseason games thanks to ball movement, spacing, cutting and off-ball action that has been missing for the better part of six seasons.

The challenge for the Thunder, and it will be a real challenge without the world’s best scorer standing on the wing striking nightly fear into defenders, is to maintain that offensive identity and allow it to lead to easier scoring opportunities. No longer can the Thunder rely simply on the two-headed monster of Durant and Russell Westbrook. For too long OKC has gotten by with their supreme talents bailing out the offense. Now, the offense will have to sustain what suddenly has become a far less talented active roster.

The basketball world already is on edge waiting to see what Westbrook will do as a ball-happy, shot-hungry point guard without Durant by his side. But if all goes according to plan, the basketball world will be disappointed. Because unlike the 2013 postseason, when the Thunder’s offense unsuccessfully went from a glorified two-man show with Westbrook healthy to a horrifying one-man show staring Durant after the infamous Patrick Beverley play, Westbrook and his teammates have displayed a commitment to better ball movement, better execution and, thus, better structure.

In time, it could lead to the Thunder becoming a better team.


VIDEO: Thunder GM Sam Presti discusses how OKC will move on after Kevin Durant’s injury

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Morning shootaround — Oct. 6


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played Oct. 5

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Nuggets, Faried reach deal | Monroe, Smith say there’s no rift between them | Rockets amp up their physical play | Lakers lose Young for 6-8 weeks

No. 1: Report: Nuggets, Faried agree to $60M contract extension — Folks in Denver had to know this was coming, especially after Kenneth Faried‘s eye-opening performance during the 2014 FIBA World Cup. The energetic power forward and the Nuggets have agreed to a five-year, $60 million deal that keeps him in the Mile High City for years to come. Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski broke the story and has more on the deal and what it means for Denver:

Denver Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried has reached agreement on a five-year, $60 million contract extension, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Faried is part of the 2011 NBA draft class eligible for extensions until Oct. 31.

The deal includes a partial guarantee in the fifth year that assures Faried he will make no less than $52 million over the life of the contract, sources said.

Denver general manager Tim Connelly and Faried’s agent, Thad Foucher of Wasserman Media Group, started to seriously exchange proposals in the past week and ultimately came to terms on a deal Sunday night, sources told Yahoo Sports.

Faried has developed into one of the NBA’s most relentless talents, a fierce rebounder and defender who has excelled offensively for the Nuggets when the game is speeded up. Faried played an integral part of the United States national team’s gold-medal performance in the 2014 World Cup of Basketball in Spain.

Faried, 24, is a tremendous success story in the NBA. As a 6-foot-8 post player out of mid-major Morehead State, Faried transformed himself from the 22nd overall pick in the 2011 draft into an integral part of the Nuggets’ long-term nucleus.

Faried averaged 13.7 points and 8.6 rebounds last season.


VIDEO: Kenneth Faried and the Nuggets are in the midst of training camp

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Gallinari seeks return to All-Star-level form

Danilo Gallinari hopes to return to his 2012-level of play (Photo by Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty).

Danilo Gallinari hopes to return to his 2012-level of play (Photo by Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty).

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – On April 4, 2013, when Danilo Gallinari drove past Dirk Nowitzki and planted his left foot just above the restricted circle, he figured he was going up for layup or maybe a dunk, and on his way to another big game — the basket would have given him 11 points with more than four minutes left in the second quarter — while putting the Denver Nuggets on course for an 18th consecutive home win.

At the time, the 6-foot-10 forward was averaging career highs of 16.2 ppg and 5.2 rpg, and was shooting the 3-ball at a 37.3-percent clip. The Nuggets, under coach George Karl, were 52-24, third in the Western Conference standings and top-four in the NBA in offensive efficiency with the postseason just two weeks away.

But when Gallinari planted his left foot, he never made it off the ground. His knee buckled. He immediately grasped it with both hands and hopped to the baseline and dropped to the floor. Soon he would be helped up and would disappear into the darkness of the tunnel. Gallinari has not been seen in uniform since.

So much has changed. Karl was fired and Brian Shaw was hired. Gallinari missed all of last season following surgery and the Nuggets, besieged by a slew of other injuries, missed the playoffs for the first time since 2003, the year before drafting Carmelo Anthony.

After extensive rehab, Gallinari, 26, is excited to make his return. He expects to play in the Nuggets’ first preseason game at the Los Angeles Lakers on Oct. 6. In an interview with NBA.com on Thursday, he said he anticipates a quick return to his pre-injury level of play that he says was deserving of a spot on the 2013 All-Star team.

“I was playing very well,” Gallinari said. “I thought at that point right before the All-Star Game, I should have been called for the All-Star Game [...] because we were one of the best teams in the league, and so I think you have to call, you have to call somebody from the Nuggets to represent a great franchise and a franchise that was doing very good. I thought that me and Ty Lawson, we were the two that could have, should have been called for the All-Star game. So I thought I was right at that level, and so my goal is to get back at that level, if not better.”

Gallinari said he believes he has conquered the challenging psychological aspects of returning from an injury of this magnitude. Physically, he said he is happy with how the knee has responded as he’s incrementally increased his workload. He said he will be close to participating in all aspects of practice when training camp opens next week.

“I’m not at the same level that I left basketball because I haven’t played a game in a while,” Gallinari said. “The more I will play games the better I will feel. I’m very excited. I think I will be ready for the first game of the preseason; we are very close. Everybody is very excited. We all cannot wait to start this season.”

Hey Denver, they’re free, free, free!

The Nuggets hope improvement at the foul line will fuel their turnaround (Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images).

The Nuggets hope improvement at the foul line will fuel their turnaround (Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty).

Mile high. And a little short.

Or long. Or left or right.

That’s how Brian Shaw characterized the Denver Nuggets’ gap between where they wound up last season and where they should have been. If you work backwards from Denver’s 36-46 finish last spring and first missed postseason in a decade in search of a butterfly effect – a hiccup in one area that leads to a major disruption somewhere else – you need to look hard at the Nuggets’ foul shooting.

Denver ranked fifth in the NBA in free-throw attempts last season but a miserable 27th in FT percentage (.726). The league average was .815, but never mind that: the Nuggets had 28 games in which they made fewer than 70 percent of their free throws and they went 10-18 on those nights.

“That’s more mental than anything else,” Shaw, Denver’s head coach, said last week during a break in the NBA coaches meetings. “Usually games are won or lost within the margin of how many free throws are missed.”

Let’s see: Denver missed an average of 7.2 free throws last season. Fifteen of their 46 defeats were by a margin of seven points or less. Roger that.

Your average NBA team got 17.83 points per game from the foul line in 2013-14. The Nuggets had 36 games in which they failed to hit more than 17, going 13-23. They had three games in which they made 12, missed 10, repeatedly hitting their low mark of 54.5 percent in a game.

This wasn’t some new speed bump for the Nuggets. Shaw has been talking about free-throw proficiency since he took over prior to last season, in part because he was a career .762 foul shooter in 14 NBA seasons with seven teams.

Denver ranked 28th (.701) in foul shooting in 2012-13, George Karl‘s final season as coach. It ranked 25th (.735) the season before that. Not since 2009-10 have the Nuggets finished in the top half of the NBA in success rate (.772).

Last October, Shaw generated some headlines by standing under the rim one day at practice and allowing the ball on made free throws to hit him on top of the head. It was a challenge to his guys, and while some took aim and hit their target, Shaw never was at risk of submitting to concussion protocols.

“I think it’s a combination of a lot of things,” Shaw said, asked for the cause. “You have to have a comfort level at the free-throw line. It takes a lot of practice. Different guys react differently – some guys make ‘em all in practice but then they get out there in the game, when the stands are filled, and they [struggle]. We have a sports psychologist at their disposal to talk to and work on ways of calming themselves down.” (more…)

Blogtable: Up-and-comer in the West

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Rondo’s future | Rising in the West | Camp showdown


> Which team has made the biggest offseason leap in the West? How high can they go?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Did San Antonio sweep the sidewalks and trim the hedges outside the AT&T Center? Winner! That’s plenty of improvement for the champs. … OK, I’ll play along. I would say Denver given the return to health of key guys (JaVale McGee, Danilo Gallinari, Nate Robinson), the emergence for Team USA of Kenneth Faried and the addition of Arron Afflalo. But the Nuggets overachieved through their setbacks last season, in my view, so their improvement might not be easily discerned in the standings. That’s why I’ll go with the trendy pick, New Orleans. Health matters to the Pelicans, too, and a crunch-time front line with Anthony Davis and Omer Asik protecting the rim could be as good as gargoyles on the glass, swatting away shots.

Anthony Davis' gold medal turn may pay dividends this season in New Orleans. (Garrett Ellwood/NBAE)

Anthony Davis’ gold medal turn at the World Cup may pay dividends this season in New Orleans. (Garrett Ellwood/NBAE)

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: I’ve got an eye on the Mavericks. The addition of two Chandlers — Tyson and Parsons — could make them a threat. I don’t see Dallas as a championship contender, but if all breaks right the Mavs could make a run at a top four seed.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: The Mavericks added the most talent with center Tyson Chandler and small forward Chandler Parsons around Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis. I really liked bringing in steady vet Jameer Nelson to run the point, eliminating them leaning heavily on Raymond Felton as a starter. That’s three new starters, which could mean some initial growing pains, but all these players are team-oriented, so it shouldn’t be too tough. They added some interesting depth with Al-Farouq Aminu and Richard Jefferson. They’ll miss Shawn Marion and Vince Carter, but both players are well past their primes. If they stay healthy, Dallas could push for a top-four spot.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Nuggets or Pelicans. Denver won 36 games last season and now expects to get Danilo Gallinari back after he missed all 2013-14, JaVale McGee back after all of five appearances, and adds Arron Afflalo in trade and first-round picks Jusuf Nurkic and Gary Harris. That’s the possibility of three new starters and the certainty of much better depth. That’s worth the 12-14 extra wins it will take to make the playoffs. New Orleans won 34 and now not only gets Anthony Davis fast-tracking to stardom, but also Omer Asik next to him at center. Good luck scoring inside on the Pels. One of the keys is what they get from Jrue Holiday and Ryan Anderson coming off injuries.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Dallas has the potential to be a top-four team in the West with the additions it’s made. The Mavs already had an elite offense, which should be enhanced by the addition of Chandler Parsons. And Tyson Chandler and Al-Farouq Aminu should help them get back to being an above-average defensive team again. Rick Carlisle is a great coach, these guys gave the Spurs a scare in the first round, and Dirk Nowitzki still has some gas in the tank.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: While I didn’t agree with all of the moves they made, there’s no question the Dallas Mavericks were the most fearless and aggressive outfit in the Western Conference during the offseason. Bringing back Tyson Chandler. Snatching Chandler Parsons. And doing it all while making sure Dirk Nowitzki remained on board and believing in the resurrection plan. That’s a master class on how to stay true to your core superstar while changing nearly everything else around him (not named Monta Ellis). The Mavericks will go as far as the new pieces will allow Dirk and Monta to go as the offensive catalysts for this bunch. No offense to Parsons, but the Mavericks didn’t need another superstar. They needed another role player with superstar potential willing to sacrifice all of his ambitions for the greater good, right now. I think they definitely put themselves back into the playoff mix in the Western Conference and somewhere far north of the No. 8 seed they earned last year.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I really like what Dallas did this summer. As Mark Cuban pointed out yesterday, they’ve picked up six players who started for other teams last season. They got a rim protector in Tyson Chandler, they got wing scoring in Chandler Parsons, two point guards in Felton and Nelson, and they add all those guys to a core that already included Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis. And having Rick Carlisle on the sideline is a pretty good way to bring them all together. Last year they were a lower playoff seed that in the first round gave San Antonio their toughest postseason test. This just feels like one of those teams people forget about … until it’s too late.

Hall of Fame debate: Chauncey Billups

VIDEO: A Chauncey Billups slideshow

Chauncey Billups’ candidacy for the Hall of Fame, now that he has retired and the clock officially starts on the enshrinement conversation, begins with a problem: the greatest selling point for a ticket to Springfield, Mass., is a tough sell.

He was a leader in 17 seasons with seven teams, filled with positive intangibles that never reach the box score. He was a difference maker in attitude alone as Detroit won the title in 2004 and Denver reached the Western Conference finals in 2009, a locker-room presence chosen by the league as the first winner of the Twyman-Stokes Award in 2013 as the “player deemed the best teammate based on selfless play, on and off-court leadership as a mentor and role model to other NBA players, and his commitment and dedication to his team.”

He was even the kind of person chosen by the media as winner of the 2008 J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award for charity work.

Billups’ strongest attribute cannot be measured. Now, get two sets of voters — one that determines the finalists, another in a second round of voting that chooses the inductees — to put that into tangible terms on the ballot when Billups becomes eligible to be nominated for the first time as part of the Class of 2019.

Which makes two problems.

Besides the first issue, 15.2 points, 5.4 assists and 41.5 percent from the field, with one top-five finish in assists average and a lot of years less than 42-percent shooting, does not get anyone inducted.

Five All-Star appearances, three as a Piston and two with the hometown Nuggets, is a big credibility boost. Being named second-team All-Defense twice, second-team All-NBA once and third-team All-NBA twice will matter. Having a lead role on a championship team — while being named Finals MVP — and also winning a gold medal with the United States in the 2010 world championships will count for a lot.

But being a positive force of energy is what set Billups apart and made him a player to emulate more than the gaudy numbers usually required for a serious Hall bid. It’s why there is a very good chance he will be in the conversation when the time comes, but not get across the line, a good talent with unique qualities but not historic.

“The Hall of Fame would be a big dream,” Billups told Yahoo! Sports in making his retirement announcement. “It marks you down as one of the greatest players ever. It’s not what I shot for, but that would absolutely be a dream. I know in my heart I had a Hall-of-Fame worthy career. If you look at most Hall of Famers, I don’t know how many of them started off the way I started off and made it to the top.”

There is also that, how Billups is a reminder not to give up on top picks too soon, the way he was traded around and played for four teams the first three seasons after going No. 3 in the 1997 draft and didn’t find a real permanence until signing with the Pistons in 2002. He didn’t give up on the dream of a real career in the NBA. Same thing now. He will keep pointing to Springfield.

Dieng among international guys who have raised their stock in Spain


VIDEO: Kia Rookie: Gorgui Dieng

MADRID – The 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup is primarily about 288 guys playing with pride for their country, great games and the drama that comes with them. But it’s also a level of competition and exposure that allows players with little or no NBA experience to raise or lower their profile.

Tuesday, the U.S. team faces Slovenia (3 p.m. ET, ESPN), which boasts Suns guard and NBA vet Goran Dragic, who has had little trouble replicating his domestic success in international play.  

But what about the other squads? Here are the three young international players who really raised their stock in the last 10 days, along with five more who helped themselves out…

Bojan Bogdanovic – 25 years old – Croatia

21.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 50.0 FG%, 13-for-36 3pt
The older, bigger Bogdanovic was the 31st pick of the 2011 Draft and was acquired by the Brooklyn Nets that night. They waited three years to bring him over, but their patience could pay off, because the 6-foot-7 small forward has improved quite a bit in that time.

There will be an adjustment to the speed, athleticism, and schedule of the NBA, but this guy can score, as evidenced by the 27 points he put up against France on Saturday, being guarded by NBA (or former NBA) guys Nicolas Batum, Evan Fournier and Mickael Gelabale. Bogdanovic won’t exactly fill the void left by Paul Pierce, but he should play right away.

Gorgui Dieng – 24 years old – Senegal

16.0 ppg, 10.7 rpg, 1.5 bpg, 42.0 FG%
With the No. 1 picks in each of the last two drafts, the Timberwolves are looking toward the future. And you have to include the No. 21 pick from 2013 as part of the team’s young and promising core. Dieng’s skill set goes beyond scoring and rebounding; he’s a very smart and willing passer out of the high post.

He averaged 12.2 points, 12.0 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in 15 starts as a rookie last season, and just led Senegal to a surprise trip to the round of 16. Facing Spain (and their NBA frontline) on Saturday, Dieng had his worst game of the tournament, shooting 1-for-9. But his play in Group B made it clear that Flip Saunders will have to find him more playing time this season.

Joffrey Lauvergne – 22 years old – France

10.3 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 53.5 FG%, 3-for-8 3pt
The 6-foot-10 Lauvergne is playing out of position with France, starting at center in the absence of Alexis Ajinca (and ahead of Rudy Gobert). But he’s a solid defender, a willing screener, and has used his quickness to combat the size of opposing centers, playing his best game against Serbia’s Miroslav Raduljica. This is the biggest role he’s had on the national team (which has four NBA players this year), and he leads it in scoring and rebounding.

After breaking out with Partizan in the 2012-13 season, Lauvergne was drafted with the No. 55 pick in 2013 and acquired by the Nuggets. They offered him a small deal this summer, but he chose instead to sign with Khimki in Russia. That deal has an out clause next year.

In group play, Lauvergne had some issues with the size of the Gasol brothers, who he’ll face again in the quarterfinals on Wednesday.

Five more

Aron Baynes – 27 years old – Australia
Baynes isn’t all that young, but he looked like a guy who deserves a bigger role in the NBA than he’s likely to get in San Antonio, where he was the fifth or sixth big on the depth chart last season. It would make sense for another team to grab him and move him up a spot or two, especially since the Spurs already have 14 fully guaranteed contracts on their roster and another guy with a partial guarantee. But Baynes is a restricted free agent.

Matthew Dellavedova – 24 years old – Australia
Dellavedova’s numbers weren’t consistent, but he played a big role on a good team. He’s more of a steady, run-the-offense kind of point guard than a scorer, though he did hit a huge shot over Omer Asik in the closing moments of Australia’s loss to Turkey on Sunday. The Cavs were a pretty good team (plus-3.8 points per 100 possessions) with Dellavedova on the floor last season, and he should continue to have a role on what is now a title contender.

Raul Neto – 22 years old – Brazil
Playing behind Marcelo Huertas, Neto’s role can be limited most nights. But with Huertas not playing his best and Brazil struggling with rival Argentina on Sunday, Neto helped turn the game around with 21 points on an incredible 9-for-10 shooting, scoring multiple times in late-shot-clock, one-on-one situations. Neto, a 2013 second-round pick whose rights are held by the Jazz, has skills, but is only 6-1, which makes it difficult to project him as a clear rotation player in the league.

Emir Preldzic – 27 years old – Turkey
Speaking of making big shots, Preldzic hit the two biggest shots of the tournament, turning a five-point deficit into a one-point victory on Sunday, and putting Turkey in the quarterfinals against Lithuania. The 6-9 forward with skills was drafted five years ago, but is still at an age where NBA teams should keep an eye on him. The Mavs got his rights from Washington in the DeJaun Blair sign-and-trade in July.

Dario Saric – 20 years old – Croatia
Most people were already high on Saric, who the Sixers took with the No. 12 pick in June, even though they knew they couldn’t have him for at least two years. But the World Cup has been a showcase for his size and skills, which will make you wish he was coming to the league sooner.

The Manimal bursts onto world stage

Kenneth Faried shot better than 79 percent in the first round of the FIBA World Cup. (Garrett Ellwood/NBAE)

Kenneth Faried shot better than 79 percent in the first round of the FIBA World Cup. (Garrett Ellwood/NBAE)

BILBAO, Spain — Kenneth Faried sticks out in a crowd.

On a couch in the U.S. National Team’s hotel lobby on an off day, Faried dominates the scene, his dreadlocks scattered over his broad shoulders, the ideal accessory for a man whose profile is rising with every outing in the FIBA World Cup.

It’s been the same way on the court for the Denver Nuggets star, who has been the most dominant force on any team heading into the single-elimination round of the tournament. The most unlikely breakout star on a team few expected him to make, Faried has been a revelation for those unfamiliar with his relentless game.

Faried silenced his critics through the five-game pool play portion of this competition with consistent fury and a motor that lives up to every letter of his gold medal, social-media infused (#unleashthemanimal) mission on his first trip with the National Team.

This notion that an old-school power forward (not a “stretch-4″) could dominate in this fashion is reminiscent of another physical force of nature who invaded Spain years ago with the USA logo plastered across his chest. While any NBA comparison between Faried and Dream Teamer, Hall of Famer and TNT’s very own Charles Barkley end there, the proof that Faried’s trademark game made it through customs without issue has been on display since the day the National Team convened for training camp.

“Overall, from the start of training camp, he’s been the biggest and best surprise and has turned out to be a very, very important player for us,” U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski said of his starting power forward, who at one point last week was shooting a jaw-dropping 80 percent. “He’s made that happen. We never call a play for him.”

A social media superstar is born

Faried makes his own plays. He steals an inbounds pass, spins and dunks all in a single burst, leaving coaches, teammates and especially opponents in awe of a man whose energy never seems to wane.

“These first five games didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. I know what Kenneth can do,” U.S. guard James Harden said. “Energy and hustle works no matter where you are, overseas, NBA, college. No matter who it is and no matter what sport. He’s done a tremendous job here in showing everybody what he can do. He’s setting screens, rebounding, offensive rebounder and scoring. He’s doing everything that we’ve asked him to do and more. He’s definitely a huge part of our team.”

Not bad for a guy who was considered a longshot, by some, to be here.

With reigning KIA NBA MVP Kevin Durant dropping out at the last-minute, just days after an injury forced Paul George out of the mix (and Kevin Love withdrawing before him), the U.S. was in need of not only a starter at power forward, but also a catalyst. Faried stepped into both roles with his usual zeal.

Silencing critics and gaining fans? That’s fine with Faried.

“I don’t know. If I am, then thank you to all my followers,” Faried said. “If I’m not, then it don’t worry me none. I just came out here to play basketball and do the sport I love to do each and every day.”

Harden, Derrick Rose and Steph Curry all have experience in the program and have won gold medals. Any one of them could still be needed to play a bigger leadership role before this tournament is over.

On to Barcelona

In the meantime, the U.S. has found a dynamic pair  of pacesetters in Faried and Anthony Davis. They are still working their way up the big man food chain in the NBA. But here in Spain, they are the unquestioned leaders of the pack.

Davis showed signs and potential when he earned a gold medal in the London Olympics in 2012. Seeing him do the things he’s doing now shouldn’t be a surprise. But no one in Bilbao saw Faried coming, including New Orleans Pelicans coach Monty Williams, an assistant on the National Team staff who also happens to work with the big men.

“I think he’s surprised everybody, just because you can’t scout energy,” Williams said. “It’s the one thing you can’t quantify, how hard a guy plays and what his heart is made of. He’s played the same way since the first day of training camp. And he’s used to playing that way. Everybody has had to adjust to him. He hasn’t made any adjustments because that’s how he is all the time.”

The world now awaits in Barcelona, where the U.S. takes on Mexico Saturday (10 a.m. ET, ESPN2) in the round of 16 single-elimination portion of the competition.

Faried said he’s playing the only way he knows how, all-out at all times. He’s proud of the “Manimal” nickname. He earned it with years of tireless work, the stuff the world is seeing now on this grand stage., the same stuff that’s made him a force in Denver.

“I don’t think he’s playing any different now than he plays in the NBA,” Williams said. “Sometimes this [international] game slows down a bit. But he doesn’t. And that helps us. But that’s his game. He plays hard every possession.”

It’s easy to tag Faried a hustle guy, an energy guy and not necessarily recognize the skill level involved in operating that way full-time. Williams knows better, though, having to deal with Faried on a regular basis in the Western Conference.

“Back in the day playing hard was expected,” Williams said. “Now it’s a skill. So guys who play at that level they stand out. With all of the attention on shooting 3s and stretch this and stretch that, the analytics, I don’t know how you analyze energy, toughness and heart. That’s what Kenneth brings every night.”

Morning shootaround — Aug. 29

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Lawson expecting big things in Denver | Griffin defends Cavs’ pursuit of Calipari | Trainer raves over Bryant’s pain tolerance

No. 1: Lawson sees big things ahead for Nuggets — In 2012-13, the Denver Nuggets were a 57-win team and boasted and up-and-coming, exciting team that seemed on the verge of being a contender. Last season, though, was a different story, as Denver fell to 36-46, most of which could be blamed on injuries decimating the roster. Point guard Ty Lawson was one of the players who dealt with the injury bug in 2013-14, but he’s on the mend and is expecting a Nuggets bounce back in 2014-15. Our Jeff Caplan caught up with Lawson, who talked about that and more:

Expected to be back in business is forward Danilo Gallinari, a career 41.9 percent 3-point shooter who missed all of last season after tearing his ACL in April 2013. So is 7-foot center JaVale McGee, whose bid to mature his way off the Shaqtin-a-Fool all-time list was snubbed after five games due to a stress fracture in his left leg. So is Nate Robinson (missed 38 games). And Wilson Chandler (missed 20 games). And J.J. Hickson (missed 13 games). So is Lawson himself, who missed 20 games due to injury in last year’s 36-46 season, the first under coach Brian Shaw.

At the tail end of last season, the 5-foot-11 Lawson, who registered career-highs in scoring (17.6 ppg), assists (8.8) and minutes (35.8), thought about all the injuries, all the adversity (including but not limited to Andre Miller) and just how far the team had come despite the sub-.500 record. He even suggested the Nuggets could possibly be a top-four team next season.

“People,” Lawson said, “are probably going to sleep on us this year because of what happened last year.”

Lawson, heading into his sixth season in Denver, spoke to NBA.com earlier this week from Los Angeles. He believes the Nuggets are deep at every position, are determined to become a good defensive team and he still believes they can sneak up on last season’s playoff teams.

NBA.com: With so many injuries last season, the team never found a rhythm. How do you see the roster shaping up assuming good health all around?

Lawson: I think at every position we’re pretty deep. At center, we’ve got JaVale and Timofey Mozgov, who started playing well throughout the last year. We’re so deep, I think that’s a gift and a curse. Everybody is going to want to play. I already told B-Shaw, I was like, ‘yeah, it’s going to be a problem that you’re going to have, divvying up minutes and making sure everybody’s still happy.’ That’s a gift because say somebody goes down, God forbid, we’ll still have somebody step right in. Also, there’s so many different lineups we can have. We can go small, go big, we’re so versatile.

NBA.com: Everybody knew the team’s identity under George Karl. After one season under Shaw, again, considering all the injuries, has the team taken on a clear-cut identity?

Lawson: This year it’s going to be more of a defensive mindset. I already know we can score, everybody knows we can score with the best of them. But my mindset going into training camp is everybody buying into the defensive end. We’ve got to make stops. I feel like if we can do that, and score in the half court, we’ll be one of the top teams out there.


VIDEO: Ty Lawson runs wild in a win over the L.A. Lakers last season (more…)