Nuggets rookie makes strong impression in preseason debut

Kenneth Faried lives up to Manimal nickname

Could the Year of the Manimal be upon us?

After sitting patiently in his warm-up suit for nearly 33 minutes, Nuggets rookie Kenneth Faried wasted no time making his presence felt when he entered Tuesday night’s preseason game against the Phoenix Suns.

Within three minutes, he had scored six points, grabbed two rebounds and invigorated a crowd of 11,475 at Pepsi Center. He didn’t stop there, finishing with 14 points, six rebounds and a steal in Denver’s 127-110 victory.

“I felt great,” Faried said. “It felt good because the crowd was behind me. When I did get in, they were chanting ‘Manimal.’ That made me even more excited to be out there.”

Drafted by the Nuggets 22nd overall last June, Faried has been trying to absorb everything Denver’s coaching staff throws at him. It’s been a two-week crash course that will continue well after the regular-season starts next Monday in Dallas.

“Something I’ll give the kid credit for, he was slow in picking up some of the things and concepts (during training camp),” Nuggets coach George Karl said. “The film will show he was pretty close to perfect (Tuesday night). A lot of his baskets came off playmaking by other people, but he found the open spot where he was supposed to be. He wasn’t doing that three or four days ago.”

Known for his hustle and rebounding at Morehead State University, Faried has adopted the Manimal nickname and launched a line of Manimal T-shirts. Sales likely will spike after his performance against the Suns.

“He’s crazy, man,” Denver point guard Ty Lawson said. “I’m happy for him. He plays hard all the time, as you see.”

Faried wasn’t the only rookie who impressed his teammates and coaches. Point guard Julyan Stone had five points, four rebounds and four assists in 12 minutes. Equally important, he did not commit a turnover.

“I could get used to this,” said Stone, who went undrafted out of UTEP. “I just play my type of basketball. I like to get others involved. When Kenneth got his dunks, I was more excited than Kenneth. It was a dream come true being out there on that court.”

Before the rookies closed things out, Denver’s regulars looked sharp. Ty Lawson scored 21 points and had seven rebounds in just 25 minutes, while fellow point guard Andre Miller finished with 12 assists. Their ability to push the pace and find the open man led to 36 fast-break points.

“Whoever gets the rebound is pushing the ball,” Lawson said. “You’ve got two point guards in me and Andre, and we’re looking up ahead. It’s going to be ridiculously fast.”

Denver’s big men were up to the challenge of running the floor. Nene, who signed a new contract last week, made all five of his shot attempts and finished with 10 points in eight minutes. He did not play after the first quarter for precautionary reasons.

Danilo Gallinari (15 points), Al Harrington (12 points) and Chris Andersen (nine points, three blocks) also looked sharp as Denver displayed its depth from start to finish.

“We need everybody to contribute,” Miller said. “The good thing is we’ve got guys that are willing passers. We don’t have just one person we have to rely on to try to carry the load. Hopefully that’s an advantage for us.”

While the Nuggets had no trouble scoring, Karl would like to see improved free-throw shooting (Denver was 24-for-38) and more consistency at the defensive end when his team faces the Suns again in Phoenix.

The return of shooting guard Arron Afflalo should help in both departments. Afflalo signed a new contract Tuesday and is ready to embrace his increased leadership role starting Thursday at US Airways Center.

"You need to take pride in doing things the right way and being a winner," Afflalo said. "I think that’s the direction we’re headed."

Aaron Lopez
Aaron J. Lopez is the primary writer for Nuggets.com, providing behind-the-scenes content, including feature stories and video for the site. Before joining the Nuggets in 2009, he spent 15 years covering Colorado sports for the Rocky Mountain News and the Associated Press, making him one of the longest-tenured sports writers in Denver. Aaron's full bio...