Nuggets coach Michael Malone presented a short video before the team’s first offseason practice to introduce returning players to seven newcomers on the roster. He saved the best clip for last.
Facundo Campazzo — a fiery playmaking point guard for Real Madrid since 2014, now getting his first chance in the NBA with Denver this season — is must-see TV.
“When I get depressed, I might just put on (Campazzo) highlights, because it brings a smile on my face,” Malone told reporters Sunday during a virtual news conference. “The guy plays with a flare and a passion that you don’t always see. … He has to be a top-five pick-and-roll player in the world.”
Nuggets players and coaches gathered at their practice facility Sunday for the opening team workout of training camp to mark the first step toward building chemistry with Campazzo, nicknamed Facu (Fah-Koo), in the shortest NBA offseason in league history.
“I’m finally here,” Campazzo said. “I’m so happy right now. I feel like a little child in this moment. It’s awesome.”
Campazzo’s international credentials check out. The 5-foot-11 point guard, noted for his creative passing, averaged 9.6 points and 6.1 assists a year ago in the EuroLeague. During the 2019 FIBA World Cup, Campazzo dropped 18 points and 12 assists for Argentina in a quarterfinal victory — ousting Nikola Jokic and the Serbia national team.
“One of the plays on the highlight edit today, right when it came on, Nikola Jokic started cursing me out,” Malone said, “because it was (Campazzo with) one of the best passes I’ve ever seen against Serbia in the world championship. He will be really fun to watch.”
How Campazzo will fit into Denver’s backcourt remains to be seen. Jamal Murray is solidified as the starting point guard with Monte Morris a trusted backup. Campazzo told reporters he can’t define his Nuggets role yet. But he described the NBA as a “quicker game” and emphasized his need to “get better at movement without the ball.”
Malone lauded his defensive abilities despite Campazzo’s smaller stature.
“When you first look at him, you probably would want to underestimate him because he’s not the tallest guy in the gym and he’s not the strongest guy in the gym,” Malone said. “But his heart is huge. He plays with a tremendous amount of passion and pride. He’s got great toughness and I think he’s a very, very good defensive player. A disruptive defensive player.”
The Nuggets have scouted Campazzo for several years, Malone said, waiting for a roster spot to open and Real Madrid contract issues to be resolved. The stars finally aligned this winter to bring Campazzo to Denver.
“The fans already sent me a lot of messages,” Campazzo said. “I’m so happy to be here because this is a great team. I’ve got a lot of great teammates. I will try to do my best.”
Will Barton update. Nuggets small forward Will Barton is still recovering from a knee injury that held him out of the playoffs last season.
“When we got to live (game) portions of practice, we held Will Barton out for a little bit, just to be precautious,” Malone said. “I think we all have to remind each other that quite a few guys who practiced today of the 17 players in our roster, most of these guys have not played a five-on-five game since March or earlier. Obviously, the returning players played late into September and this is really hard for them physically and emotionally. But I loved the effort and I loved the energy.”