January 9, 2021, 5:59 pm
Welcome, Hoop Ballers, to our International Spotlight weekly feature where we will be taking a look at flashy Argentinian point guard Facundo Campazzo who made the move and joined the Nuggets this past offseason after a long and very successful career in Europe.
Campazzo started his career playing for the Argentine League club Peñarol Mar del Plata where he won the Argentine League championship four times (2010, 2011, 2012, 2014), the Argentine Cup (2010), the Argentine Challenge Cup (2010), the Argentine Super 8 Tournament three times (2009, 2011, 2013), the InterLeagues Tournament twice (2010, 2012), and the FIBA Americas League championship (2010).
He was named the Argentine League Revelation of the Year, and the Argentine Cup MVP in 2010, the Argentine Super 8 Tournament MVP in 2011 and 2013, the Argentine League Finals MVP in 2012 and 2014 and the Argentine League Most Improved Player in 2012 but the level of competition was thought to be too low and he went undrafted in 2013.
After moving to Spanish club Real Madrid, Campazzo won two EuroLeague championships in 2015 and 2018, playing alongside Luka Doncic, while in 2019 he won the silver medal at the 2019 FIBA World Cup representing Argentina.
Denver’s Top-Notch International Scouting Department
The Spurs have long been considered the gold standard in regards to finding the best international talent and bringing it to the NBA but the Nuggets have easily surpassed them in recent years and that has to do more with empowering the right people and less with pure luck. Masai Ujiri and Arturas Karnisovas are only a couple examples of executives that have run their international scouting department with tremendous success. And while drafting Nikola Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic was the result of great under-the-radar work, with Campazzo, the issue was that he was already a well-known commodity coveted by a handful of NBA teams and held a hefty buyout with his club team.
The Argentinian guard had worked with the Nuggets before the NBA draft back in 2013 and the team kept an eye on him but what really made the difference was the presence of current Nuggets scout Martynas Pocius who played with him at the end of his decorated career in Spain. Pocius operated as a mentor for Campazzo during a great year in Murcia where he led his team in points (13.2) and assists (6.7) while playing over 30 minutes per game.
Last summer, during the FIBA World Cup, the Nuggets became even more bullish on Campazzo’s NBA credentials, especially when he outplayed Nuggets star center Nikola Jokic, delivering an 18-point, 12-assist, six-rebound performance and ousting Serbia, which had been a favorite entering the tournament.
Campazzo made a significant financial commitment to aid his buyout from Real Madrid and the Nuggets eventually agreed to a two-year deal worth $6 million.
Fails the Eye Test but Makes Plays
One of the things that matters the most, especially at the NBA level, is size, but throughout his career Campazzo hasn’t let a slight frame become a barrier to his success as he finds ways to use his hands, legs and sneaky athleticism while constantly being active and energized.
There were a couple phenomenal plays by the Argentinian guard in a game against the Wolves in the first week of January that showcase how smartly he uses his body to reverse a bad matchup or to surprise his opponents with skills they can’t really see coming.
First, there is a 3-on-1 fast break opportunity where Facu positions himself at the right angle, forcing Jarrett Culver to throw the ball above him, only to see the defender jump and intercept his pass.
Then, Jake Layman thinks he has the advantage against a much smaller Campazzo who quickly jumps ahead of him and steals another pass, this time from D’Angelo Russell.
While some may think that Campazzo is nothing more than a fancy, quick, true point guard, his impact on the other side of the ball is equally important as he has been a stealing machine throughout his career, averaging close to 2.0 steals per game. A very good on-ball defender and a pest who gets into people, he has active hands, he takes charges and generally delivers what coaches call “winning plays.”
Through the first few games of his NBA career, it’s obvious that opponents have been targeting him on defense and Campazzo has been overwhelmed by the attention while his passes have looked tentative but lack of chemistry and the transition to a new environment can be blamed for the inconsistent production.
Here is a possession where the Kings switch during the initial pick-and-pop action, leaving the bigger Harrison Barnes again Campazzo; when the Nuggets attack again with the same play Marvin Bagley is slow to react and sticks with the Argentinian but his pass is a little bit off even though Isaiah Hartenstein rolls to the basket and is literally alone.
Mike Malone is still working his rotations and it’s certain that he will soon figure out the right combination of bodies for the second unit, but the growing pains for a team that didn’t have a long training camp will be obvious in the upcoming weeks.
Nuggets Value Playmakers
With a current roster construction that is missing a true pass-first point guard in the first unit and a center that leads the team in assists, it’s pretty evident that Denver values playmaking no matter the shape or size it comes in. The Nuggets were fourth in the league last year with 26.7 assists per game and they are second so far this season with 27.5 per game. And this is a number that actually makes sense as Malone has slowly abandoned his strategy of calling many plays for the offense in recent years, instead spreading the floor to give Nikola Jokic additional room to operate while maximizing the value of shots created when opposing teams double him in the paint.
With Jamal Murray, Nikola Jokic, Monte Morris and Facundo Campazzo rotating in the lineup the Nuggets can easily find the shooters, manufacturing easy looks and more scoring opportunities. Here is a beautiful pass from Facu as he recognizes the mistake from Cory Joseph to pack the paint, leaving Will Barton wide open for the easy 3-point shot.
Although the Nuggets already had Jamal Murray and PJ Dozier and gave an extension to Monte Morris, the addition of Campazzo also had to do with the team wanting to push the pace a little bit more as they were almost at the bottom of the league last year with just 11.3 fast break points per game. Look at another magnificent play where Campazzo stays alert, recovers the ball and quickly throws a touchdown pass to Will Barton for the easy layup.
There was plenty of buzz about Facu in the offseason and a lot of managers in dynasty leagues didn’t hesitate to invest a pick in him but the return so far this year hasn’t been very impressive. Obviously, it’s not easy for Campazzo and all the new players coming to a new team and a new system to become regular contributors overnight so expectations should be lowered, especially in a season like this where the uncertainty of the pandemic affects everyone.
Campazzo’s game reminds me of Milos Teodosic, who showed the NBA what a capable passer he was but was unable to overcome the challenges of the NBA’s physicality. I’m very optimistic about Campazzo’s longevity in the NBA, however, and not only because the Argentinian is tough and a super high-level competitor who doesn’t like to lose. Facu long ago made a commitment to a gluten-free, sugar-free diet, which he maintains as of today while he is always in the weight room, squatting or sprinting or stretching to ensure his athletic edge. I don’t see him becoming a starter but numbers will slowly go up as he adjusts to the game and his stat-set is intriguing as other than assists, steals and triples, he delivers good overall percentages.
Hope you enjoyed this week’s article and feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @philysstar and stay up to date on all the breaking news and rumors posted on our website and on our Twitter account @HoopBallFantasy.
Stats are courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com and are accurate as of January 9th.