By JAKE FISCHER
College Contributor Network
With 5:02 remaining in the second quarter of Team USA's FIBA World Cup game against the Dominican Republic on Sept. 3, Anthony Davis rose up to block E. Santana Pimentel's fruitless layup attempt. The Americans raced down the floor and Steph Curry drove into the paint. With Curry's layup bouncing atop the rim, Kenneth Faried came flying from out of the picture to jam the miss through the iron.
"He just continues to play with a high motor," ESPN's Fran Fraschilla declared in delight.
Faried's developed a prolific reputation during his time in Spain. Let's be real, you don't develop a nickname like "The Manimal" without being heralded as a workhorse, but now that he's performing so highly on a world stage, the Denver Nugget has become one of the leading stories of this summer's tournament.
In Team USA's nine-game run to the FIBA World Cup title, Faried, who emerged as a unlikely starter in Team USA's frontcourt alongside Anthony Davis, averaged 12.2 points and 7.7 rebounds and 0.6 blocks in just 21 minutes per game.
Per 36 minutes, he posted 20.9 points, 12.8 rebounds and 1.1 blocks -- which would easily be career bests. He finished lobs from half-court, dunked on countless slow European 7-footers and sent numerous opponent layup attempts into the stands. In the U.S. victory over Turkey, Faried stole the show with the game's top highlight.
All this success has come at the perfect time for Faried. This upcoming 2014-15 season, in which he's slated to earn a hair under $2.25 million, will be the last under his rookie contract. And Denver will likely have about $15 million in cap space to play with next summer, as only Ty Lawson is currently on the books for the 2016-17 season.
There have been multiple reports that Faried and the Nuggets have been progressively negotiating an extension throughout the summer. According to the league's Collective Bargaining Agreement, the two parties have until Oct. 31 to strike a deal or Faried will become a restricted free agent next summer.
Denver finds itself in an interesting situation. The team is loaded with developing young talent in Faried, Lawson, Danilo Gallinari and Arron Afflalo. There's also JaVale McGee, rookies Gary Harris and Jusuf Nurkic and a slew of quality role players like Randy Foye and Nate Robinson.
One season after a 36-46 campaign, the Nuggets aren't insane in thinking they have a shot at making the playoffs this year, even in the wild Western Conference. Still, they're far from true championship contention and the team's general manager, Tim Connelly, has publicly expressed he's open to shaking up the team's roster to acquire a bonafide superstar numerous times.
This all leaves Faried at a crossroads in his career and the Nuggets with a huge decision to make. He's still only 24 and, in all likelihood, his impressive play at the World Cup is still Faried barely scratching the surface of his prime, preparing for a breakout season like so many 2010 Team USA participants did in 2010-11.
He's going to get paid, yet he's an undersized power forward who struggles in one-on-one post defense and can't shoot above 40 percent from outside of 10 feet. Is "The Manimal" worth All-Star money? Is Faried an equal to the likes of Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge, Zach Randolph and Serge Ibaka, or is he just a loveable scrapper that will always be nipping at those guys' heels?
Whether Denver values Faried as more of a 4-year, $36 million player or a 4-year, $48 million player will set the tone for the team's next era post-Carmelo Anthony. We'll have to wait and see if the Nuggets want to continue being a deep, scrappy group of running and gunning, above-average players or a team that invests in key role players, while still searching for its superstar to take it to the Promised Land.
Jake Fischer is a junior at Northeastern University. He covers the NBA for SLAM Magazine and SB Nation, writes for the Boston Globe and lives and dies with the Philadelphia 76ers. Follow him on Twitter: @JakeLFischer
By JAKE FISCHER