Facundo Campazzo can’t remember precisely what year he chose the Denver Nuggets, but he has no trouble recalling why he chose them.
Several seasons before Nikola Jokic became the face of the franchise, there was an electric point guard in Denver whose imprints were all over the team’s fortunes.
“I’m not gonna lie, I used to play a lot with the Denver Nuggets, with Ty Lawson,” Campazzo told The Denver Post, when asked which team he’d choose for video games.
Campazzo remembers playing a full season with the Nuggets on his console. It might’ve been the 2013-’14 version, when Lawson averaged a career-high 17.6 points along with 8.8 assists. Then he offered another clue: forward Kenneth Faried was a staple of his virtual squad. Not that The Manimal enjoyed the same liberties as Denver’s diminutive point guard.
“I just remember Ty Lawson because I shoot everything with him,” Campazzo said.
Campazzo’s loyalty strayed – who doesn’t love playing with Kevin Durant, Steph Curry or Damian Lillard? – but more than half a decade later, he now finds himself as the starting point guard, just weeks away from the playoffs, for the team he used to run.
“If somebody told me that seven months ago, I for sure don’t believe him,” said Campazzo, who spent his formative years playing in Liga ACB, Spain’s top league. “I know it’s a big responsibility to be here, being a starter, dressing in this jersey, this Denver Nuggets jersey, and I will take that responsibility and do my best.”
While Campazzo, now 30, was the lead point guard for Real Madrid, he had an itch to test himself. He didn’t know whether his high-octane game would translate to the NBA, and whether his size (5-foot-10) would squash his dream.
“I just wanted the opportunity,” he said. “I don’t know if my level can work here or my game can fit here, but I just needed the opportunity to try at least. I don’t want to finish my career and think, ‘OK, I didn’t try at least, you know?’”
After nearly a compact full regular season – arguably one of the hardest seasons ever for any player, let alone a rookie – Campazzo proved he has staying power. Amid the Nuggets’ devastating rash of injuries, Campazzo has become an integral figure in their fight to prove it’d be foolish to write them off.
Metaphors like Campazzo write themselves.
In April, when the Nuggets boasted an NBA-best 13-3 record despite Jamal Murray’s season-ending ACL tear and extended absences for Will Barton and Monte Morris due to hamstring strains, Campazzo’s role soared. He was fourth in minutes played (27), second in assists (4.6), tied for first in steals (1.2) and fourth in 3-point percentage (42%). Depending on Morris’ return, Campazzo could potentially be the Nuggets’ starting point guard when the playoffs begin in three weeks.
Following the Nuggets’ win over Toronto, veteran JaMychal Green was asked generally about the team’s uptick in thefts.
“I just want to give a big shout-out to Facu,” Green said, knowing the pressure he induces on nearly every possession. It was a worthy compliment from one blue-collar player to another.
The last month alone has seen him guard Curry (twice), Ja Morant (twice) and Lillard (once).
Campazzo’s tone picks up at mentions of the assignments.
“Do you think they were frustrated?” Campazzo asked. “If they were frustrated just for a couple minutes, it’s a goal for me. … If they don’t feel comfortable playing against me when I guard them, it’s a goal for me. I like to play defense, I like to guard players like them, like Damian Lillard, Stephen Curry. I think I’m a better player after guarding them. … If I share minutes against them, I feel like I learn a lot from that kind of player.”
Last Wednesday against New Orleans, he recorded his first career double-double (19 points, 10 assists). Two games earlier against Houston, he had a career-high 13 assists. In the four games prior to Saturday night’s showdown against the Clippers, Campazzo had authored 34 assists. Of the total, 23 fed fellow starters Jokic or Michael Porter Jr.
“They are great players, dangerous players, because in offense, they have a lot of resources for scoring,” Campazzo said. “I just pass the ball to them, I don’t do nothing.”
Like Jokic, Campazzo has no problem indulging in some of his magic. The behind-the-back drop-offs, the breakneck transitions or the defense-melting dimes are all second nature to him. Unsurprisingly, the list of his NBA influences includes creators, ball-handling wizards and entertainers.
“If I have to choose a couple of players for NBA, I will say Steve Nash, Jason Kidd, Jason Williams,” Campazzo said.
Of Williams, Campazzo said he used to watch highlights of him on YouTube growing up in Argentina. The evidence is there in both his flair and his theatrics — though when Campazzo tried Williams’ famous elbow pass, he said it landed among the fans.
Campazzo also mentioned Vince Carter, whose aerial displays awed him and his friends. Emulating Air Canada was significantly more challenging than mimicking those artistic guards. When he wasn’t playing PlayStation with his brother and their friends, Campazzo consumed the highlights and dreamed of inventing some himself.
“I’m living the dream every day,” Campazzo said. “… It’s very nice here, and I’m living the dream, but also I want to compete, I want to stay here many years. I want to compete and keep learning from this league, keep learning from my teammates or from this team. Like I said, I want to stay here many years. I know it’s not gonna be easy, but it’s a big challenge for me. I will take it.”
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