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The Sixth Man: Every team should have its own version of Facu Campazzo

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His gritty and clever play are peaking when Denver needs it the most.

Denver Nuggets v Golden State Warriors Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Many fans and media heads are enamored with explosive offensive play. Players that can create their own shot in highlight fashion will always garner the spotlight and for good reason. Their talent is a captivating gift night in and night out for the fans. With that being said, there is a difference between captivating basketball and winning basketball.

Denver’s acquisition of Facundo Campazzo is one of the most overlooked additions of the summer. His accomplishments are well established among Denver fans but I will reiterate them. He has played professional basketball since 2012 joining the Argentinian Olympic team alongside Manu Ginobili. Most of his achievements come from the Liga ACB which is Spain’s best professional basketball league. Facu is a three-time champion and finals MVP of that league.

Those who are unaware of Facu’s game, may see those accomplishments and expect Facu to be this dynamic sharpshooter among the likes of NBA stardom. His highest scoring season was 15.8 PPG which came in the 2016 Olympics. In his several years of professional experience overseas, he averaged 9.5 PPG on 40% shooting and 4.9 assists. He has never been an elite scorer but he is a champion and a Finals MVP. This is a telling notion because as he comes to America, many desire to classify his impact via statistical information, but his influence expands beyond the box score.

When you look at players like Rajon Rondo, Marcus Smart, and Draymond Green they all have one thing in common. They are not known as elite scoring threats but they serve a crucial purpose to winning basketball. “Playoff Rondo” did not become commonplace because he turns on this Jordan-esque switch and drops 30 points per game. In fact, Rondo averages 13.3 PPG over his playoff career. He earned that name because he is a great facilitator and defender at the time when his team needs him the most.

Furthermore, when we observe Draymond Green we view him as a three-time All-Star and NBA champion. His game isn’t always the most intriguing to watch. He looks like he shoots with a backpack on and throws up some of the more incredible bricks of the season. Yet he is one of the great winners in recent NBA history. On a team filled with scoring talent, they needed an exceptional defender and effective facilitator. That blend of superstar scoring talent and effective role-playing led the Warriors to three championships.

Winning basketball is not always about putting the ball in the basket, it’s about starring in one’s role and creating a constant impact on the path to victory. Whether it be small plays like a deflection on a fast break, boxing out so your teammate gets the rebound, or setting a hard screen these are all necessities for winning in this league. Facu Campazzo might not be an elite talent in the NBA, but he is a winner and sometimes winners are more important than talent.

For example, Kyrie Irving might be the most fascinating player to watch in the NBA today. He has the best handles the game has ever seen, can create his own shot whenever he wants, and can shoot from anywhere on the floor. Did that help the Cavaliers when LeBron left? Absolutely not. As a matter of fact, Kyrie had a 68-130 record with the Cavaliers without LeBron. I’m not trying to say Kyrie is not a winning basketball player because he is. He is a champion and a Hall of Famer. All I want to do is convey the point that talent alone will not always directly correlate to victories.

Many thought Denver was heading into the abyss with the loss of Jamal Murray and now Monte Morris and Will Barton. They are without three starting guards yet they are 6-1 since Murray’s departure. Why? Because the Nuggets are playing unselfish, winning basketball and Facu is a crucial part of it. There are multiple ways Facu excels on the court, but his bread and butter is defending and facilitating.


Defense

Pound for pound Facu is the best defender on the Nuggets. If he had the height and weight of a wing player, he would win All-NBA defensive awards. Don’t care about my opinion? That’s fair.

Here’s what 2015-2016 All-Defensive player Paul Millsap had to say:

“To me, off the bench, there’s gotta be a spot on one of those All-Defensive teams for him.”

JaMychal Green took it a step further and said, “I really feel like he’s First Team All-Defense. I don’t care what anybody says.”

Facu has this incredible ability to move his feet and defend without his arms. When you watch his tape, he bothers elite, superstar talents in this league because of his feet, he removes any space between him and his opponent while defending with his chest.

This is what I’m talking about when I say he defends with his chest. You do not see this type of constant defensive activity often in the NBA. Facu is matched up with Ja Morant one of the league’s most exciting young talents. Morant is exceptional at getting downhill, finding his way to the rim and finishing. Facu is giving up about five inches on Morant as he is 6’3” compared to Facu’s 5’10.” Morant notices the advantage so he thinks he can drive on Facu. He begins his drive by going left but Facu moves his feet to cut that off. Then he goes behind his back and resets to go left again but he runs right into Facu’s chest. Now that Morant picks up his dribble, Facu reveals his active hands and strips it away for the turnover.

Facu is not going to astonish people with athleticism. He needs to maintain great defensive instincts and position to overcome some of his limitations, and if he is elite at one thing it is his defensive instincts.

This counts as a steal in the box score but it is much more than that. Facu is manipulating the offense to go where he wants. When the ball hits River’s hands, Facu is on Quickley at the top of the screen. He creeps over to Rivers to offer help on Green’s left side. He reads River’s eyes the entire time and predicts he will pass it to Randle at the free-throw line. So he jabs left to make Rivers think he will go back to Quickley but that is just a setup. Rivers sees Facu jab left, so he passes it to Randle, but this is exactly what Facu wanted. He manipulates Rivers into passing it to the middle and ends up with the steal.

“Okay Tommy, but Steph dropped 53 on him.” Well, that’s not true. During that game, as Facu being the primary defender he allowed Steph seven points on 25% shooting and five turnovers.

“Well, Ja Morant had 36 on him last week.” Again, that does not illustrate the entire story. Facu has given up a combined 14 total points in three games versus Morant.

On a nightly basis, Facu is guarding some of the best guards and players in the league. He will not be perfect. Elite scorers will eventually find a way against him but that is why they’re elite. Nevertheless, for an undersized, third-string guard to not only hold his own but excel against elite talent is extraordinary.


Facilitating

Another way Facu impacts winning basketball is his facilitation skills. He is a very gifted and clever passer. Like all great passers, he has the ability to see the play before it happens and conquer it with great accuracy.

This is an effective play by Denver because it involves spacing, a nice cut by JaMychal Green, and a good pass by Facu. He’s going to come off this screen and roll, maneuver right, and fire a dime to Green. The reason I call it a dime of a pass is because although it might not look pretty, that’s the only place he could put it. If you pause the clip just before the one-second mark ends, you will see Olynyk notice the Green cut and move towards him. Facu knows he doesn’t have a lot of time, so he throws the one-arm slingshot to Green’s outside shoulder. If Facu would have led Green to the basket with this pass it would be easily stolen by Olynyk.

Michael Malone raves about Facu’s pick and roll play and this is why.

Facu makes this play look simple but it’s really not. Phoenix leaves the paint wide open so Green wisely rolls to the basket. Facu does not hesitate and throws a one-arm bouncer to Green in stride for the layup and the foul. It may look like a normal bounce pass, but Facu puts some english on this one. Kaminsky sticks his foot out to block the pass, so Facu has to set this pass a little wider than he would like but that’s no problem. During the pass, he spins the ball just a little so it bounces wide but comes right back in stride for Green.

If there is one aspect of Facu’s pick and roll game you might like to see improve, it would be making the defense commit. Defenses are discovering he is not much of a scorer, so when Facu comes off the screen they dare him to shoot. We haven’t seen great finishing ability from him, so if he can refine his finishing skills he will, like Luka Doncic said, “Be a real problem in this league.”


I see a lot of disappointment some have in Facu and for that I am astounded. Let’s not forget, he was signed to Denver to be their third-string guard behind Murray and Morris. The expectations many place on him mirror a starting point guard. He was not signed to be a starting guard, but he earns a right to 20 minutes a game because he continues to make winning plays.

Imagine if Denver did not sign him. Without two point guards, Facu’s basketball IQ and intensity contribute in a major way to this 6-1 record without Jamal Murray. You will not find a lot of third-string point guards creating this type of impact on a playoff team. Not this season or any others.

He’s not the most gifted scorer so he will have off shooting nights, but nobody in Denver’s organization expected him to average 15-20 points per game. He brings incredible effort every night, and for those who loved Torrey Craig and Gary Harris, that same sentiment should be felt for Facu.