Nikola Jokic’s future is at power forward

Nikola Jokic

Kenneth Faried is leaving the door open for Nikola Jokic to take his spot.

One of the most polarizing questions that the Nuggets need answered by the end of next season is if Nikola Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic can play together. What is the one obstacle standing in the way of testing this lineup? Kenneth Faried.

So far Kenneth Faried’s career has been a murky cloud of what-ifs. What if he can dedicate himself to the defensive side of the ball? What if he can add a mid-range jump shot? What if all of that buoyant athleticism finally translated into an All-Star player for the Nuggets?

When it comes to his jump shot, hope is starting to dwindle. His rookie season, he shot just nine of 24 from outside the paint, a 37.5 percent field goal percentage. Jump five years into the future to the end of this season, and he has only shot 21-60 from outside the paint, a 35 percent field goal percentage. That is almost no development whatsoever. Take a look at his shot chart from this season:

Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 6.30.30 AMThat is the absolutely zero spacing from your power forward.

Things are even worse defensively. His defensive rating has gotten worse almost every year, except his sophomore year where he got one single point better from his rookie season. His defensive rating was 102 then, which happens to be his career best. This past season he posted a career worst defensive rating of 107.

Take a look at his defensive metrics:

Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 6.30.54 AMLooking at this graphic is rough. Players are shooting 5.7 percent better overall against Faried than their usual average. Even more horrifying is that teams are shooting a whopping 7.9 percent better at the three-point line than their averages as well.

Not only are teams shooting well from distance against him, but he’s also giving up an unacceptable 5.2 percent better average on shots within six feet. For a rim-protecting power forward, that is teeter tottering on awful.

So far, none of Faried’s hopeful developments have come to fruition. He has had spurts of good defense and has seemed to commit himself to playing better fundamental-team defense, as opposed to hunting for big time blocks. He has worked himself into a somewhat respectable post game, featuring a hook shot he can only take right handed. He has also stuck to more of a “hustle” type offensive role. Faried has taken 55.4 percent of his shots from offensive rebounds, cuts and transition buckets, which lead to him ending up as seventh in the league in field goal percentage, 55.8 percent. Still, is it enough?

Enter Nikola Jokic.

I can already hear the detractors of playing Jokic at the power forward spot. Yes, he needs to increase his quickness and foot speed to guard the more mobile stretch fours in the NBA. Yes, he needs to learn how to stay at home on the perimeter and close out on guys quicker. My question to all those detractors is what are you really losing, defensively, by starting Jokic over Faried? So I dove into Jokic’s defensive metrics as well.

Surprisingly, Nikola Jokic has been solid on the defensive end. He has his deficiencies but despite the lack of explosion, Jokic’s metrics look much prettier. Take a look:

Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 6.31.09 AMGranted, he was facing more centers than power forwards, but over the course of an entire season, Jokic has been switched onto much quicker players. Opponents are shooting four percent better against him on three point shots than their averages, but in comparison to Faried’s 7.9 percent, that’s not a rough figure. He’s also is holding opposition to eight percent less than their averages on shots from within six feet.

Even with his athletic issues, he has still managed to be fantastic protecting the rim and has shown enough quickness to be a bigger defensive plus than Kenneth Faried on the perimeter.

Remembering the fact that he is a rookie with a soft body gives even more hope to the idea of Jokic being able to guard power forwards with better effectiveness.

Where Nikola Jokic helps the Nuggets the most is on the offensive end. Many Nuggets fans have said that starting Jokic next to Nurkic will clog the lane. This is where Jokic’s shooting and vision change everything.

Very few players, frontcourt or backcourt, have the shooting, vision and basketball IQ that Jokic brings to the table. Having another non-shooter in Faried next to Emmanuel Mudiay does nothing but clog the lane. Bringing in Jokic instead provides a high post playmaker and an extra shooter. This should un-clog the lane that has been difficult for Mudiay to navigate thus far, as well as take a bit of pressure off of the young point guard.

Jokic already is shooting 33 percent from the three-point line and has a solid midrange floater from the center of the court. He also has shown the Dirk-one-foot-step-back shot from the baseline to complement his diverse post game. Look at his shot chart:

Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 6.31.26 AMHaving a shooter/distributor of that caliber, who is still getting better, is far away the better option to add to the starting lineup. Where this leaves Kenneth Faried is a mystery. If the Nuggets brass believes that Jokic can pick up the full-time power forward spot, it will mean that Connelly and Co. will have to find a way to convince Faried to take a bench role or trade him.

It has been long enough and the time has been spent.

I believe it is time to move on from Kenneth Faried.

(Thanks to NBA.com/stats for their player tracking. All shot charts and defensive metrics tables all are from NBA.com/stats)

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