To help the returning Denver Nuggets learn about their new teammates, coach Michael Malone started Sunday’s first group practice of the season with a video that showed highlight-reel plays from the seven additions to the roster.
Malone saved Facundo Campazzo’s clips for last. And Nuggets center Nikola Jokic began cursing out his coach moments later.
The reason: Jokic had already seen what the 5-foot-10 Campazzo can do at his best. Some of the clips that Malone picked out for the occasion just happened to be ones from the 2019 Basketball World Cup, where Campazzo put on a dazzling show that led Argentina past Jokic and Serbia in the quarterfinals.
Soon, Malone hopes, Jokic and Campazzo will be teaming up for similar highlights.
“I don’t see how you cannot fall in love with a young guy like Facu,” Malone said. “He’s small in stature, but like I said, you can’t judge him by that. You judge him by his heart — which is very, very large. And he makes plays that most people don’t even think about or see.”
Malone believes that with Jokic and Campazzo, the Nuggets now have two of the very best passers on the planet together on one team. That was just one of many reasons why Denver wanted Campazzo, whose exploits in the international game earned him the moniker “The Magician.” And this fall, Campazzo was able to leave Real Madrid and sign a two-year deal with the Nuggets.
“I’m finally here,” the 29-year-old Campazzo said. “I’m so happy right now. I feel like a little child in this moment. This is a dream, you know, but I’m just going to keep working. It’s not going to be easy.”
Finding a Campazzo parallel — an NBA rookie who’s almost 30 and with a listed height of under 6 feet — isn’t exactly easy, either.
Squeaky Johnson, 5-foot-10, was a few weeks shy of 29 when he debuted for New Orleans in 2011; he played 15 games. Charlie Criss, 5-foot-8, was almost 29 when his career started in 1978 for Atlanta; he stuck around the league for parts of eight seasons.
Every other example goes back to the 1940s, the league’s earliest days. Malone, however, doesn’t sound the least bit worried. He joked that Campazzo will help him with his Spanish, but his primary hope is that he helps the Nuggets find a new level.
“He’s got great toughness,” Malone said. “I think he’s a very, very good defensive player, a disruptive defensive player, and on offense I think he has to be a top five pick-and-roll player in the world. The guy is a not a good passer — he is a great passer. He makes all of his teammates better. He’s extremely unselfish, and that’s why I think it is a seamless fit into our culture.”
Other NBA teams had talked to Campazzo about coming over to join them, but he preferred Denver because of his belief that the Nuggets — who went to the Western Conference finals this past season, successfully rallying from 3-1 deficits in each of their first two playoff series to get there — are title contenders.
Campazzo has played in the Olympics twice, the Basketball World Cup twice and has a pair of EuroLeague championships. And in a few months, he hopes to add the NBA playoffs to that list.
“The Denver Nuggets have a great team; they played very good last year,” Campazzo said. “The playoffs, they usually go there, so that is very motivating for me and playing on a team like this one is very, very awesome for me.”