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Kenneth Faried shining at power forward

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Believe it or not, the Mike D’Antoni Rockets have actually gone big these last few games.

Houston Rockets v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

When the Houston Rockets picked up Kenneth Faried on the buyout market earlier this year, he was thought to be essentially a fill-in for normal starter Clint Capela, who was out with a thumb injury. Conventional wisdom and Mike D’Antoni’s tendencies told us that when Capela returned, the 6’8” Faried would continue to play at the five, just less often.

It’s no secret that D’Antoni likes to go small, and Faried’s ability to still leap out of the gym had him squarely situated as a Capela-light in the Houston system.

But with James Harden out for this past Saturday’s win over the Golden State Warriors, D’Antoni decided to do something unconventional (at least for him), and start Faried, who played most of his career before H-town at the four, back in his natural position, and the results were sublime.

The Rockets have made a bad habit of getting outrebounded on the regular this year, and it’s no doubt contributed to at least some of their defensive struggles. But Houston took the battle of the boards against the Dubs 49-45, with Faried putting up a 20-point, 10-rebound double-double in 33 big minutes that helped pave the way for the Rockets’ victory.

He even squashed concerns about floor spacing in knocking down 2-4 from beyond the arc, an added wrinkle to his game that surprised most everyone, this writer included.

Then, in last night’s 119-111 victory over the Atlanta Hawks, James Harden returned, but D’Antoni bucked his tendencies again by sending Faried back out as a starter at power forward, and the big man once again responded.

The Rockets did end up losing overall rebounding to the Hawks by a 41-37 margin, but Faried led the team with 10 boards (to go along with 13 points), including 7 offensive rebounds that gave Houston a 12-10 lead in that category. That edge on the offensive glass resulted in a 20-14 advantage in second-chance points for the Rockets, which was one of their main keys to victory.

Oh, and he also hit another triple, going 1-2 from deep in the game, to make him 4-7 combined from beyond the arc in the three games since the All-Star break in which he’s been seeing minutes at the four.

After the game, Faried admitted to the Houston Chronicle that he’s still learning the nuances of playing a little more “stretch” to help with the Rockets’ spacing, saying:

“It’s a totally different feeling. I’ve been running to the corners (in the past three games.) Different mindset you used to have because I’m used to running to the rim. That’s easy for me, running to the rim, down the middle of the floor. But now you have to run wide and maybe if you do try to run to the rim and get back out to that corner, still. That’s a new concept for me.”

But he’s been pretty successful at it thus far, and if he can keep this up, the Rockets have just added a new wrinkle for the opposition to worry about. If he can continue to space the floor and offer enough of a threat with his outside shooting, while still doing some dirty work on the boards and running to the rim, this signing by GM Daryl Morey is going to look better and better.

The other thing this move does is it pushes Eric Gordon back into a sixth-man role, a position in which he’s excelled in the past, winning the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award in 2017. It also sends P.J. Tucker back to small forward, where he started out his career and played almost exclusively until 2016, and it gives the Rockets the added versatility to go big or small.

It’s only been two games, so the sample is small, but it appears that Faried’s going to get the opportunity to make it work in the starting five alongside Capela. If it does work, Faried could wind up as Morey’s best GM move of the season.