Suns’ Chris Paul has history with Mike Malone, Nuggets backcourt

Jun 7, 2021, 2:03 PM

Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul, right, looks for a shot over Denver Nuggets guard Facundo Campazzo d...

Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul, right, looks for a shot over Denver Nuggets guard Facundo Campazzo during the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Jan. 1, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Turns out you get to know a lot of people being around the NBA for 16 seasons.

Point guard Chris Paul enters the Phoenix Suns’ Western Conference Semifinals series with a little bit of history with several individuals on the Denver Nuggets.

It starts with a deep respect for head coach Mike Malone.

In 2010-11, Malone was an assistant coach on a New Orleans team that featured Paul at point guard and current Suns head coach Monty Williams in his first year leading an NBA team. Paul said Monday that Malone is one of his favorite coaches in his long NBA career.

“We always talk about me playing for Monty 10 years ago, Mike was on that coaching staff,” Paul said Monday before Game 1 of Nuggets-Suns. “He was my assistant coach. Every night I was watching games, we would texting or calling each other, ‘They gonna run this play or they gonna run this play’ or what not.’

“The reasons that (Denver) team is the way it is is because of him.”

Because the Nuggets are without starting guard Jamal Murray and wings Will Barton and P.J. Dozier to begin the series, it will be a by-committee backcourt rotation for Denver to keep pace with Paul, Devin Booker and backup Suns guard Cameron Payne.

The Nuggets will role with a rotation of Facundo Campazzo, Austin Rivers and Monte Morris.

Health permitting, Paul will hope to take advantage of the Murray-lacking group. Paul vaguely danced around how his shoulder injury has improved with four days in between games.

“It’s been good,” Paul said of the break. “I think it’s been good for everybody. Just trying to refreshed and get ready for this series. It’s going to be a tough one.”

With that, here’s what Paul said about a unique Nuggets backcourt rotation.

PG Facundo Campazzo

The 30-year-old rookie has a prolific career overseas and started 19 games for Denver this year.

He crossed paths with Paul on the international circuit during the 2012 London Olympics. His Argentinian squad twice faced Paul and the United States when Campazzo was a  a 21-year-old during that summer.

This year, it took awhile for him to gain traction in the NBA. For the regular season, he averaged 6.1 points and 3.6 assists per game.

Campazzo is a passing savant who at 5-foot-10 struggles to score (38% overall) but is a decent spot shooter (35% on three-pointers). He’s settled in as a starter this postseason, averaging 9.3 points, 5.2 assists an 1.7 steals against a defense-inept Portland team.

“Campazzo, you can see how long he’s been playing and the comfort level he has now with Denver,” Paul said. “They trust him, as they should. He plays hard, he competes every possession.”

Let’s just say that, in the regular season, a healthy Paul appeared very set on welcoming the rookie quite rudely.

PG Monte Morris

While Morris has retained a bench role for the Nuggets, he is the most likely candidate to play closer.

The 25-year-old has quietly gone about his business as an unflashy but wildly underrated player in the league. He’s a selective but efficient shooter who closed the first round with a 28-point, five-assist Game 5 and then a 22-point, nine-assist Game 6 against the Blazers.

On Malone’s behalf, Paul has worked out and gotten to know Morris over the past few years.

“He’s just a guy that plays the right way,” Paul said. “Can shoot it, can score, can pass, just not going to turn the ball over. Somebody who’s going to be in this league a long time, but just knows the game.”

Morris averaged 15.3 points and 5.8 assists in 30 minutes per game against Portland.

G Markus Howard

Howard, a rookie out of Marquette, hit the 15-minute mark in four of six games in the first round.

The 22-year-old who attended Perry High School in Gilbert, Arizona, brings scoring punch and has shot 9-of-20 from three-point range in his first playoff run.

Howard attended the Chris Paul Elite Guard Camp in 2018.

“The biggest thing I was trying to gain out of this whole couple days was just learning as much as I could,” Howard told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “Really just paying attention to the drills and certain things that (Paul) does, especially in film sessions.

“He would do the drills with us and being able to watch him and his reps was very beneficial to me. Just to see how he does it in a game-like setting. I was able to emulate some of the things he was doing. Going over film with him, he really dissects the game better than anybody in the league.

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Suns’ Chris Paul has history with Mike Malone, Nuggets backcourt