It may be a new year, but for the Denver Nuggets, they are dealing with the same old issues in 2022 that they were facing in 2021.
The Nuggets have found a way to win more often recently with improved offensive play spearheaded by the reigning MPV in Nikola Jokic. But it is simply impossible to view them as anything beyond a slightly below-average team with all of the rotation players they have been without. After 35 games, the Nuggets are 20th in offensive rating at 108.5 and 16th in defensive rating with a mark of 108 which gives them a net rating of -0.5 slotting them as 19th in the league overall.
Even as players return from a recent COVID-19 outbreak, Denver continues to add more names to their injury report so before going any further. Let’s take yet another look at who Denver could be without in the days ahead.
Denver’s injury report
First, the usuals. PJ Dozier (left ACL tear), Markus Howard (left knee sprain), Jamal Murray (Left ACL recovery), and Michael Porter Jr. (lumbar spine surgery) all continue to be out as expected.
Most recently, Vlatko Cancar was re-added to the injury report. After missing a game due to a non-COVID illness, Cancar returned only to fracture his right foot against the Dallas Mavericks. There is no timetable for his return at this time.
Austin Rivers has also been fighting a right thumb sprain that has flared up regularly since he returned from health and safety protocols after contracting COVID-19. Rivers is currently questionable, and they badly need him to fill minutes with so many other guards out, but there is no telling just how close to 100% healthy he is.
Denver then has three players in health and safety protocols: Jeff Green, Monte Morris, and Zeke Nnaji. No information has been released or reported about if any of those three players actually tested positive or not which makes predicting their return to the court dicey. The closest to returning to the floor is Nnaji.
That is five rotation players —Dozier, Jeff Green, Morris, Murray and Porter — and two badly-needed reserves — Cancar and Howard — who could continue to miss time as well as two other reserves — Nnaji and Rivers — questionable to play.
Oh, and that is all without mentioning the fact that Denver has had up to four coaches in health and safety protocols, including head coach Michael Malone as well as stand in head coach and lead assistant David Adelman. For the last two games, assistant coach Popeye Jones, who is in his first year with the Nuggets, has stepped into the role of fill-in head coach with so many other coaches missing.
So, outside of the most obvious answer in Jokic, who can Denver and fans betting on the Nuggets rely on with so many players out?
Facundo Campazzo steps up for injured Nuggets
While his box score contributions might not explode off the page, there is no denying the importance of Campazzo with the Nuggets roster to thin at guard.
Denver is without Dozier, Howard, Murray, Morris and possibly Rivers. That is four or five guards who will not play once again. Will Barton III has done what he can to pick up the slack, but Denver has desperately needed another guard to step up and take pressure off of the likes of Barton, Gordon and Jokic.
Campazzo has been that player.
Over his last 15 games, Campazzo is averaging 8.4 points and 5.8 assists per game which is good, but it doesn’t begin to tell the whole story.
Despite playing just under 27 minutes per game with the ball in his hands, he is only averaging 1.3 turnovers against his 5.8 assists during that same span of games. Additionally, Campazzo is averaging 1.6 steals per contest; completely making up for any of his issues giving possessions away. He is attacking the rim with more regularity to create better looks for his teammates. And he’s finding moments to launch 3-pointers when open. His scoring efficiency is not what many would hope for — just 40.2% from the field and 35.8% from 3-point range on the season. Still, his willingness to get into the paint and collapse the defense has helped the Nuggets create more open shots.
Yes, his scoring is not ideal and Campazzo is far from a defensive stalwart. But the Nuggets are in desperate need of creation from their guards and Campazzo has given Denver everything he has to offer. Even with his limitations, Campazzo can make an impact and there is no better example than his performance against the Rockets when he had 22 points, four rebounds, 12 assists, five steals and two blocks in 34 minutes of action as a starter.
Denver will need a whole lot more than that if they hope to find ways to win. Of course, the driver for Denver is Jokic. And while his MVP odds don’t show it, he should be the MVP again.
Nuggets home-heavy month of January
There is hope on the horizon for the Nuggets and NBA bettors. Not only could they get back four players as well as their head coach, but in their next 12 games, eight of them will be in Ball Arena.
The catch to their seemingly impending good luck? They have to face off against the Portland Trail Blazers, Los Angeles Lakers, Jazz, Los Angeles Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies, and Detroit Pistons for their six-game homestand which will not be easy. To accentuate the importance of the home games, Denver’s schedule following its home-heavy stretch includes a six-game road trip in just nine days to close out the first month of 2022.
Can the Nuggets secure wins at home against playoff-caliber opponents despite their decimated roster? The answer could be the catalyst that leads Denver to a top-six seed in the Western Conference or a trip to the play-in tournament with their postseason lives on the line.
Only time will tell what the future holds.