On a roster of small guards, the smallest might be the answer.
Over the next two weeks, the Denver Stiffs staff will preview the 2020-21 Denver Nuggets season in an alternative way. Rather than preview every single player on the roster, Denver Stiffs will ask and answer the 10 most pressing Nuggets questions in the two weeks prior to the season opener on December 23rd.
We hope you enjoy!
The Nuggets preseason opener was…well, eye opening.
Michael Porter Jr. started for the still recovering Will Barton at small forward. Nikola Jokić was his usual dominant form. The starting lineup still appeared to be clunky, and the bench unit was also disjointed, lacking a bit of pop scoring wise and struggling to defend perimeter jump shooters.
All of this was unsurprising but certainly enlightening. The first of Denver’s three preseason exhibitions to ready the team for the real deal, Michael Malone went to a rotation that I projected pretty closely. From last Thursday’s article, here’s a projected rotation without Will Barton:
Now, here’s the rotation Malone utilized Saturday night against the Golden State Warriors:
It never shows up exactly how one might believe it to show up. Game-time situations are almost impossible to project entirely; however, most of the principles are the same. A couple of key differences were P.J. Dozier instead of Bol Bol and a significant amount of preseason garbage time, but all in all, it’s a good summation of how the game unfolded.
One key question I had in this one: how would the Nuggets utilize their backcourt players? Even without Will Barton available, there were five players who deserved significant time: Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Facundo Campazzo, Monte Morris, and Dozier. I had initially projected Dozier would be outside the rotation. This time around, without Barton, Malone took the opportunity to see what he could do at small forward off the bench. In actuality, Dozier possesses all of the valuable skills of a combo guard, with quality defense, ball handling creativity, and slashing ability that can lead to effective drives and important playmaking. That impact is lessened as a small forward, but having him out there is a luxury if he can hit outside jump shots.
The two players Dozier has been displaced by are unsurprising: the newly extended Morris had a solid game on Saturday, scoring 10 points on 11 shots and generating one assist to one turnover. It wasn’t a spectacular Morris game by any stretch, but the point guard showed he could be part of a backcourt even if he wasn’t the primary facilitator due to improved scoring instincts.
The other player is Campazzo, Denver’s new addition from Real Madrid. Originally from Argentina, this diminutive 5’11” (if that) point guard proved exactly what the buzz was all about. He played with insane amounts of energy on both sides of the ball, flying around and making hustle plays while also contributing positive play overall. So often hustle players are just running around out there, but Campazzo clearly played with purpose, using a high basketball IQ to make sure that his energy helped the team in every possible way.
Denver’s second unit played in a unique way with three point guards on the floor at the same time, weaving in and out of different sets, using the pick and roll with Isaiah Hartenstein or the pick and pop with JaMychal Green and Zeke Nnaji. There were certainly bumps along the way, but each player displayed a level of effectiveness individually that should eventually come together cleanly. Campazzo in particular seemed to be gaining momentum in the fourth quarter after establishing a rhythm with the other players on the floor.
For that reason, I think it’s safe to say that the Nuggets will head into the season with multiple point guards on the floor at the same time. No matter what happens with the starting unit, the Nuggets are going to be in need of that “jolt” when the bench enters the game. Having multiple ball handlers out there makes the group more dynamic, and Campazzo, Morris, and even Dozier are all capable of offering that in different ways.
Campazzo is the electricity that charges up the rest of the rotation. It was clear from the moment he stepped on the floor that his teammates would respond to the energy and intensity Campazzo plays with on every single possession. He makes highlight-worthy passes, scores despite being undersized, and makes the hustle plays needed to get the bench up at least once a game to laud his individual efforts for the sake of the team.
Morris might appear to be just a steady hand, but he has moments where he can go on his own personal run. In his fourth season overall and third of playing more consistent minutes, it wouldn’t surprise me if Morris established himself as a scorer at a higher level than before. As he becomes more comfortable as a player, dictating the pace of play and manipulating the defense, Morris will need to improve as a scorer to continue justifying the contract extension he signed last week.
Dozier is the long, versatile combo guard with the ability to break down the defense while defending the opposing team’s best perimeter playmaker. His effort and attention to detail on the defensive end give him an opportunity to break into the rotation, while developing offensive skills give him the opportunity to stay there. He made an impact in the playoffs as an off-guard for Jamal Murray who focused on the defensive end of the floor, and while it doesn’t look like he will be the primary backup at point guard, he could slide into a number of different roles and thrive as a versatile contributor.
In the end, if there’s one choice to be made about WHO the backup point guard is, it’s probably Campazzo. He will be asked to be the spark plug off the bench to help Denver kick into gear when needed.
The great thing about having several ball handlers though: it’s not all on one player to succeed. Denver will really be attacking bench playmaking duties by committee. It could be Campazzo, Morris, or Dozier. It could be Will Barton or Gary Harris, one of whom is likely to come off the bench to start the season. Denver realized the need for additional ball handling when Barton was forced out and the Nuggets were forced to survive without enough ball handling in the rotation. Just in case that happens again, the Nuggets are now prepared for what’s to come.
Campazzo may start the year as the primary backup point guard. It doesn’t mean he will finish the year that way, but he did give Nuggets fans a dose of the excitement international fans have every single time he steps on the floor. He’s going to be fun for Denver this year. Whether fun translates to the highest level of success remains to be seen.