With his pesky, aggressive defense, Facundo Campazzo of the Denver Nuggets has a steal percentage of ... [+] 2.6%, placing him in the top 3 percent among NBA point guards.Getty Images
Facundo Campazzo earned the nickname “The Magician” on account of the jaw-dropping playmaking skills he showcased throughout his acclaimed pre-NBA professional basketball career.
But now after entering the league this season as an unusually experienced rookie for the Denver Nuggets, Facu could just as easily be called “The Thief.”
After Denver signed Campazzo to his first NBA contract on an accolade-packed resume that spans over a decade, head coach Michael Malone heaped some lavish praise on the Argentinian point guard, calling him not only one “of the best passers in the world," but “a top-five pick-and-roll player in the world,” and thereby signaling a strong likelihood that the somewhat surprising Nuggets offseason acquisition would get a meaningful role in the regular rotation.
That has indeed come to pass, as Facu has stepped into increasing prominence as the season has progressed, in part due to finding his footing in the NBA as he’s adjusted to the faster pace and flow, and also as Denver’s slew of injuries has opened up more playing time not only for Campazzo, but also his fellow rookie teammates R.J. Hampton and Zeke Nnaji.
But even before the start of the season, while Campazzo’s “magical” playmaking may have generated the most excitement about what he might bring to the Nuggets’ table, the more intriguing buzz coming from Argentinian and international basketball fans – who on the whole were far more familiar with his game than the NBA-centric fan and media base – was about his defense.
To many, present company included, this came as a surprise, as the biggest concern regarding the portability of Campazzo’s game to the NBA was (and really, still is) his limited height of five-foot-eleven, which by most accounts is a generous measurement.
Both the Nuggets franchise and its fans are very familiar with Campazzo’s physical prototype, as the team has had a history of cycling through diminutive guards from Earl Boykins to Ty Lawson to Nate Robinson to Isaiah Thomas. And the consistent thread running through the lot of them was that they all, for the most part, presented liability for Denver on the defensive end.
But while Facu’s reputation for being not only decent on defense, but far beyond that a tough, feisty, fearless and pesky defender, can be counterintuitive considering the track record of his height cohort, his defensive game is proving to at least in some ways translate to the NBA, and most notably in the area of steals.
Campazzo’s outright production in steals does not exactly jump off the stat sheet – his 0.9 steals per game places him 77th among the 142 NBA guards who have played at least 20 games and 15 minutes per game, according to NBA.com. But considering the fact that Facu himself has barely cracked the 15-minute threshold at 15.4 minutes per game, this basic counting stat belies Facu’s actual high efficiency in picking opposing team’s pockets.
Facu Campazzo is in the 97th percentile in steal percentage among point guards at 2.6%, per Cleaning the Glass. For those uninitiated in the ways of percentiles in basketball statistics, this means that Facu’s steal percentage is better than 97 percent of the league’s other point guards, with only three percent above him, placing him in elite territory in this category.
This puts Facu’s steal rate right in the territory with highly-skilled thieves such as Jrue Holiday, T.J. McConnell, LaMelo Ball and Dejounte Murray, all guards who a re in the top 10 in the NBA in steals this season.
Film Study: How Facu Campazzo Gets His Steals
Turning to the film to take a look at just exactly how Facu Campazzo is forcing opponents to turn over the ball, the most obvious place to start is what I call “attack mode.”
Campazzo is frequently called a “pest” for good reason: He is an extremely aggressive bundle of energy on the defensive end, relentlessly burrowing into the space of the players he guards, hounding and bothering them to no end. This disruptive style of defense is one of the primary ways Facu picks his guy’s pockets.
Facu’s aggressive style tends to catch opponents off guard, as in the first two plays Campazzo simply seems to say, “You won’t be needing this anymore” and takes his leave with the ball.
Campazzo’s anticipation of how the players he guards will move with the ball combine with the quickness and accuracy of his hands to produce both great reads and execution. This can be a particularly potent weapon when Facu gets switched onto bigs, as seen in the fourth play where he wraps around Dean Wade to poke the ball away.
Facu’s hand work is so speedy that if you blink you can miss it, so it’s useful to slow things down to see just how fast and precise he really is when going after the ball.
In addition to “attack mode,” the other broad category of Campazzo’s steals is grounded in his years of experience as a veteran, and the elite ability he has honed to read the floor and disrupt passing lanes.
At times, Facu almost plays a role analogous to free safety in American football, ostensibly assigned to a player to defend, but simultaneously dropping back a bit and scanning and patrolling the court for opportunities to play the passing lanes and force turnovers.
This can be seen in most of the play clips here, as quite often Campazzo generates steals by seeing the play unfold when he’s away from the ball and anticipating his best angle of attack to deflect, intercept or rotate and help to force the turnover.
Whether from “attack mode,” disrupting passing lanes or any other play type, one of the most valuable aspects of Campazzo’s steals comes once he gets the ball in his hands and puts his playmaking skills to use in generating transition scoring, and doing one of the things Malone loves best: creating offense from defense.
Widely regarded now as the best passing big man in the NBA, if not the best passer in the league, period, Nikola Jokic has a new teammate to “rival” his playmaking prowess, as some of Denver’s most electrifying passing and assisting highlights this season have come from Campazzo, the first clip above being perhaps the most impressive of them all, as Facu leads the fast break after stealing the ball and feeds Monte Morris for the layup with a ridiculous bounce pass backwards between his own legs while running at full speed.
Like Jokic, the instant Campazzo gets the ball on a turnover he is looking down the court for quick scoring opportunities, sometimes leading the break, sometimes finding long-range outlet passes to set he teammates up as he does with Will Barton III in the second clip.
Campazzo puts a kind of pressure on opposing offenses unlike many players in the league, and specifically on the Nuggets’ roster, which adds defensive value that helps to offset some of his liabilities that arise from his lack of size, like struggling to contain dribble penetration or having opponents shoot right over him.
Facu’s nonstop hustle and energy have proven to be impactful, and his extreme aggressiveness even in sometimes unexpected moments helps keep opposing offenses honest.
The next question will be whether Campazzo’s defensive game will translate to the postseason, when playoff series matchups will afford opposing teams the chance to more thoroughly scout and prepare for his pesty, disruptive style of play.
But so far, especially in such an injury-ravaged season, Facu has gone far in alleviating some of the concerns based mostly on his size that he would be a complete minus on defense. The fact that he has held his own this well to this point has allowed Malone to keep him on the floor in high leverage situation, and even if the Nuggets return to full health, fans should expect to continue to see Campazzo playing a significant role in Denver’s rotation, and robbing opponents of the ball at every opportunity he gets.