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Mavericks star Luka Doncic and Nuggets rookie Facundo Campazzo took similar paths from Real Madrid to the NBA that converged Thursday night with smiles, hugs, and laughter during a pregame embrace at Ball Arena.
“My relationship with him is great,” said Campazzo, who shared the floor with Doncic over roughly three years (2014-17) in Spain’s top professional league. “We are friends. We try to keep in touch, not every day, but we try. He’s a special kid, a special player.”
Doncic, an MVP candidate in his third NBA season, had no doubt Campazzo would eventually make it to the big stage.
“He knows everything,” Doncic said. “No advice.”
The teammates-turned-opponents did not face one another Thursday on the court, though, with Campazzo a healthy scratch while Doncic dropped a season-high 38 points to sink the Nuggets in overtime, 124-117. Campazzo had played more than 20 minutes in each of his last two games with a combined 26 points and four assists. But taller Denver guards Monte Morris and PJ Dozier supplanted Campazzo in the lineup against the Mavericks’ lengthy backcourt.
Campazzo appears undeterred. He spoke with reporters earlier this week about his NBA maturation after mastering the game overseas.
“I feel confident thanks to my teammates and the coach,” Campazzo said. “I just try to put 100 percent into every game. I know this is my first year here. I’m a rookie. So, I’m trying to learn a lot. I try to enjoy every game.”
Doncic doesn’t anticipate a lengthy learning curve. Campazzo, 29, already proved his leadership and playing capabilities to Doncic, 21, as he developed as a young player in Spain.
“Once (Campazzo) gets a chance and starts playing, he’s going to be a real problem in this league,” Doncic said. “I know this is going to happen.”
The success of international players in the NBA continues to grow, especially in Denver, where Nikola Jokic is averaging gawdy statistics through the first eight games (25.9 points/11.6 assists/10.9 rebounds). For Nuggets’ veteran center Paul Millsap, the Doncic-Campazzo connection is clear when you put on the tape.
“They’re fundamentally sound guys,” Millsap said. “They know how to play the game of basketball. They’ve been playing it for probably all of their lives, and professionally for the majority of their lives. Their similarity is their experience. Although they may be young in this league, they’re not young in the game. They bring that experience over with them. That’s the similarity I see.”
Campazzo has shown early flashes of being a sparkplug off the bench with elite passing, court vision and, potentially, a hot shooting hand. But it appears Nuggets fans should be patient in Campazzo’s development as the team overcomes the early hiccups of a 3-5 start to the season.
“Facu has just been getting better and better,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “Michael Porter has been out due to COVID protocols and that has opened up more minutes. We’ve gone to more of a small-ball lineup. … Facu, not just offensively, but defensively has been a difference-maker. I thought his defense on D’Angelo Russel was very impressive (on Tuesday).
“His ability to get downhill, get to the rim, and make plays for his teammates, knock down open 3s, he has taken advantage of the opportunity given to him these last couple of games. That’s been great to see.”