Facu Campazzo might be the answer for the Denver Nuggets
This past week, facing a daunting four game road trip with a shorthanded roster, Denver Nuggets Coach Mike Malone took a chance. Malone inserted guard Facu Campazzo into the starting lineup for the first time all season. The rookie rose to the challenge vs the Boston Celtics, tallying 15 points and 8 assists in an encouraging debut as a starter. Campazzo repeated his success for the next three games, prompting fans to ask: Who is the Nuggets guard and how good can he be?
Although Campazzo is an NBA rookie, he is not your typical baby-faced youngster entering the league. In Europe, the 29-year-old Argentinian built a 10-year career and became one of the most decorated international athletes in the world. He earned the nickname “The Magician” for his ability to find a wide open shooter or create an easy layup seemingly out of thin air.
One of the best displays of his craftiness was a beautiful no-look pass in a February 13 matchup with the Los Angeles Lakers that went viral on Twitter. Campazzo came off a screen at the top of the key and kept his eyes on JaMychal Green rolling to the rim. Once he commanded the defense’s attention, The Magician dished a he-made-it-look-so-easy pass to fellow rookie Zeke Nnaji for a wide open corner three.
“The guy is not a good passer; he’s a great passer,” Coach Malone said of the Argentinian guard. “He makes all of his teammates better, he’s extremely unselfish, and that’s why I think he is a seamless fit into our culture.”
Although he might not be a household name (yet), Campazzo has drawn acclaim from European stars familiar with his game. Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic, who played with Campazzo in Europe for Real Madrid, envisions a bright future for his former teammate.
“Once he gets a chance and starts playing, he’s going to be a real problem in this league,” Doncic said. “I know this is going to happen.”
Another ex-teammate and compatriot has praised Campazzo at times, a player whom Campazzo has begun to draw comparisons to: Manu Ginobili. Campazzo and Ginobili shared the court as teammates on the Argentinian National Team, during the 2012 and 2016 Olympics. Thus it makes sense that Ginobili’s former team, the San Antonio Spurs, were one of the most dogged pursuers of Campazzo’s services this past offseason. A team that has unearthed many overseas diamonds was eager to secure what could be the next one.
One of the most convincing testaments to Campazzo’s skill and leadership was bestowed upon him by ESPN commentator and USA National Team coach Jeff Van Gundy. When the USA and Argentinian National Teams faced off, Campazzo displayed his creative passing and insane vision. Van Gundy admits that he grew so frustrated with the 5’10” guard during the game that he twisted his first name into a respectfully disrespectful nickname: Facu “Fuck You” Campazzo.
Despite his reputation abroad, Campazzo’s rookie season in the NBA has been relatively muted due to lack of playing time. But he has shown he can be dependably brilliant when given the right opportunities. In the eight games that he has played 19 minutes or more, Campazzo is averaging 13.4 points, 1.5 rebounds, and 3.4 assists on 54.2% field goal percentage and 50% from beyond the arc. His tenacious defense on opposing point guards is reminiscent of Matthew Dellavedova guarding Steph Curry in the 2015 NBA Finals. His energy and effort on the defensive end is reflected in the steals column most nights.
However, Campazzo has shown he is one of those special players whose full impact extends beyond the box score. He is a smart team defender, always communicating on rotations, switches and help schemes. He makes the right play with the ball and rarely has a multi-turnover game. He isn’t afraid to make a defense pay with his quick shot release when he’s open. His vision and ability to see passing lanes encourages Denver’s big men to run the floor in transition, knowing Campazzo will reward them with an easy bucket. As the Nuggets official twitter account says, “If you’re open, @facucampazzo will find you.”
Campazzo provides the smart, veteran presence off the bench that Denver desperately needs when stars Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray are off the floor. When he channels his inner Ginobili, Campazzo is exactly the kind of ceiling-raiser that can produce highlight-level plays. If Campazzo can build off of a strong four game road trip – a big if – then giving him the starting role might not be taking a chance at all.