Denver Nuggets: Who’s the starting PG on opening night?

Denver Nuggets guard Monte Morris and guard Facundo Campazzo react against the Phoenix Suns in the second half during Game 2 in the second round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs on 9 Jun. 2021 (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

Denver Nuggets guard Monte Morris and guard Facundo Campazzo react against the Phoenix Suns in the second half during Game 2 in the second round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs on 9 Jun. 2021 (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

The Denver Nuggets will enter next season without Jamal Murray as he recovers from a torn ACL late in the 2020-21 season. Following his injury, Facundo Campazzo started in his place and for most of the playoffs. Who should start at the beginning of next season?

The battle for the starting position is likely between the Argentinian and Monte Morris, a long-time favorite of head coach Michael Malone and sturdy bench presence.

The incumbent Campazzo took the starting role after Jamal’s injury and in the 19 games he started this past season, Facundo averaged 9.6 points and 5.6 assists in just over 31 minutes of play. As a smaller guard, he guarded mostly opposing point guards and his lack of an explosive scoring game was hidden next to the offensive hub of Nikola Jokic.

The Denver Nuggets are lucky to have Jokic and his unique ability to control the offense from the center position. It means that whoever Malone decides to go with won’t have as many playmaking responsibilities as it’ll be focused on the big Serbian.

This is likely why he went with Facu right after the Jamal injury. Campazzo excels on defense and with a limited offensive role, he was able to expend plenty of energy on the defensive end while playing around Jokic on offense.

Surprisingly, when comparing Campazzo’s stats as a starter and reserve, he held a similar usage percentage (13.7 percent when starting and 12.7 percent when not) and was a much more effective offensive player, scoring nine more points per 100 possessions according to basketball-reference.

It’s not all Campazzo there, however, starting and playing more minutes means he’s playing more with the starters, a better overall unit.

On the whole, Campazzo was a net negative on offense with the team dropping 5.9 points per possession on that side per Cleaning the Glass. His +2 on defense doesn’t make up for that scoring drop.

His presence did see the Denver Nuggets get more threes up as his +4.8 percent of threes taken is in the top ninth percentile among all point guards, an elite level.

But comparing those numbers with Monte Morris is a whole different story. Monte is as calm, collected, and sturdy as point guards come. Where Campazzo is like an Energizer Bunny, running around and bugging opposing players, Monte lets the game come to him and somehow plays within the offense while dictating it.

One of the underrated elements of Monte’s game is how sensible he is with the ball. Chris Paul, deservingly, gets all the attention for his lack of turnovers, but Morris is just as elite. In the 2020-21 season, he averaged 0.7 turnovers per night in 25.4 minutes.

Out of all point guards or combo guards who played 1,000 minutes, the only player with a lower turnover percentage was CJ McCollum per Cleaning the Glass. Monte turned the ball over 7.2 percent of the time, Chris Paul? 11.3 percent.

Using the same metric, when Monte is on the court, he makes the Denver Nuggets better on both ends. This past season, the Nuggets were +0.4 points per 100 possessions better on offense and 0.9 points better on offense.

Yes, those are only slight increases but when you think about the role he has played the past few years, coming in and sorting the second unit out, it’s quite impressive that he’s able to stay in the positive – bench units aren’t meant to be good. The Denver Nuggets were second in the league in bench scoring, behind only the Phoenix Suns per Statmuse.

If Monte is starting for the Nuggets, Malone loses one of his most stable options at the backup guard spot. Yes, Campazzo or even Nah’Shon ‘Bones’ Hyland could step in there (both will likely play both guard slots next season), but neither are or will be as stable as Morris is off the bench.

My prediction would be that Campazzo continues to start next season and holds on to his role for the entire season. Monte will be the first player off the bench and closing games with the rest of the starters.

With such an inflated role, it’d be interesting to see if Morris can get into the Sixth Man of the Year award voting next season as a second unit general and finisher for a playoff team.