Meet the new Blake Griffin?

I hate nicknames.

I mean I really dislike them. For the most part, I find nicknames to be contrived and forced. When they’re used in the hopes of just making it more efficient to type about a player’s name, I tend to be more understanding. I’m a pretty lazy person in many respects, so I definitely don’t mind something being streamlined for me by any means. But often times it seems as soon as a player gains some traction in the NBA, people are instantly trying to come up with a nickname for a guy, even if his name is fairly unique.

What should Kyrie Irving’s nickname be?

Is Kevin Love worthy of having a nickname?

What should we call Danilo Gallinari?

When a person already has a unique name, why wouldn’t you just call them by their unique name? It’s not like if you say “Love” or “Kyrie” or “Danilo” that anybody is going to confuse them with Joe Smith, Charles Shackleford or Jerry Stackhouse (I have no idea why I’m only naming former 76ers right now).

There is one nickname though that I’m having a hard time hating right now and it belongs to Kenneth Faried.

Manimal. 

It awkwardly rolls off the tongue. Sometimes I can’t decide if I’m tripping over my own mouth and trying to start Van Halen’s “Panama” for a little throwback rock. Other times, I start wondering if I have peanut butter stuck in my mouth as I’m trying to say the word “animal.” Whatever it is, it’s not a great nickname in terms of enunciation but in terms of capturing what a player is, I’m having fewer and fewer qualms with it as the games go by.

There is a relentless ferocity with which Kenneth Faried plays the game that can only be described as animalistic. It isn’t meant to demean him into anything lesser than a man; it’s just that it’s the only way to explain the murderous and predatory relationship he has with the rim. Give him an inch of space in the lane and you can expect a baptism at the hoop. He doesn’t just dunk; he dunks really hard. It’s like he’s trying to bend the rim into a shape only fit for carnival games. It could be the reason why he’s 14th in the NBA in dunks despite playing no more than half of the minutes of every player who rounds out the top 20.

You can throw him an oop at almost any angle and nearly any height. When he was poked and prodded and measured at the pre-draft workouts last year, he measured in at 6’7.5” and yet he reached 11’11” on his max vertical reach. According to Draft Express, only 15 players including Faried have measured out that “short” while still claiming that high of a vertical reach. Faried’s 7’0” wingspan helps make up for his short stature – something that helped him measure with a higher vertical max reach than one Blake Griffin.

I had the privilege of watching Faried in person this past Sunday. The Nuggets were visiting the Timberwolves for a matinee showdown. It was a game in which the Wolves were blasting the Nuggets for most of the game. While Kevin Love was going off for another 30-20 game and the entire Wolves’ team was really clicking, I couldn’t keep my eyes off of Faried. There’s something about him on the basketball court that acts as a magnet attracting your vision to his movements.

It’s difficult to explain because first you have to figure out how magnets work.

It isn’t the hair either. I’ve seen DeMarre Carroll in person. I’ve watched Mickael Gelabale run around the court. I think I once saw Al Harris walking around a mall. Faried is constantly stalking the play unfolding before him. Every muscle is coiled at all times. He wants to find that inch of space that allows him to get into the highlight reel. The only other player I’ve felt this way about is when I watched Blake Griffin in person.

They both draw you to their movements away from the ball because you can see their anticipation building toward a spectacular play. They both find a way to get the majority of their action and points at the rim because that’s what both players are wont to do. Their similarities are in their explosion. No play is too athletic for them to make and that’s what makes their abilities look like a mirror image of the other.

Look at their numbers across the board and you don’t see a lot of difference, other than usage.

You see distinct differences in the efficiency of Faried’s scoring, Blake’s passing, Faried challenging shots and Blake’s ability to get to the free throw line. Other than that, there isn’t a whole lot of difference in the way these two impact a basketball game. Faried finds ways to score efficiently with nary a play called for him.

But maybe these numbers don’t shed a lot of light on the situation. Let’s check out the offensive Synergy numbers.

Before I delve into these numbers a bit, allow me to blurt something out real quick…

HOLY PENNYWISE DEAD LIGHTS BLAKE GRIFFIN IS DESTRUCTIVE ON THE BREAK! 82.7% from the field and he’s scoring almost a point and a half per possession?! That doesn’t even seem possible in a video game.

Now, back to the comparison. There is a big glaring difference in the way they’re used in isolation. Blake is the number one option on the Clippers because he has the ability to face up with his man and take him off the dribble. Faried hasn’t honed that ability yet and it’s a huge part of why the Nuggets would never run that kind of a play for him. I don’t think it’s out of the realm of Faried’s eventual capabilities either. He is fairly strong with the ball around the basket. He just doesn’t have a counter move to the baseline if he’s dribbling hard to the middle and the help defense cuts him off.

A lot of this could be viewed as sample sizing interpretation and maybe that’s a valid detraction. There could be more of an ability reason for why Blake’s usage and opportunities are so drastically volumized as opposed to Faried’s. Blake is a better basketball player in terms of how you can use him as a central focus of an offense right now. But the key there is “right now.”

Faried is a rookie on a deep team that has just earned the trust of his coach to play minutes. George Karl knows he doesn’t have to run plays for Faried to get involved so it’s possible he uses him as an effort safety valve to clean up broken plays and breakdowns in the offense. The Manimal could end up becoming much more of a trusted and isolated weapon under Karl if it proves to be necessary within the TEAM concept.

Defensively, Faried measures out to be much worse than Blake this year. He’s giving up a lot of points per possession, and you could argue that it doesn’t even capture the full spectrum of defense, which it doesn’t. He’s not terrible at rotating on defense and he’s very aggressive with contesting shots. However, he seems to get lost and be a step slower out there. It could just be a matter of being a rookie in a season in which he doesn’t get a lot of practice time to learn stuff.

He can’t be too awful of a liability consider Karl keeps him out there quite a bit (although he also plays Al Harrington a ton of minutes too). The difference between him and Blake is that Griffin remains passive and unchallenging on defense while Faried manages to get involved in the tussle. This could mean he’s a reckless defender that gives up chances for the opposing team to grab offensive rebounds. Or it could mean he’s prone to future success as a defender because his instincts are forcing him to be active and more aware each time out.

Regardless, I don’t think it would shock anybody if the smaller yet reachier (WINGSPAN!) Faried ends up being a much more capable defender than Blake Griffin does.

Overall, I don’t know that it makes sense to say Kenneth Faried is capable of being as big of a star or weapon as Blake Griffin, but it also doesn’t make sense to just slough it off as a peabrain possibility either. Faried has showed us that he can be a weapon on offense without having an extensive repertoire in the halfcourt option. For a time being last season, Blake Griffin was quite similar.

Maybe all Kenneth Faried can ever be is a diet version of Blake Griffin – not quite the same fantastic taste but you’re consuming fewer calories. From what I’ve seen so far, I know I won’t be able to take my eyes off of him as he becomes more of an established weapon in this league.

You never take your eyes off the Manimal.

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  1. Blake Griffin can’t reach his defensive potential
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