2017-18 Nuggets Player Breakdown: Torrey Craig
Nuggets coach Michael Malone was steadfast all season long when asked if he knew Torrey Craig could really, truly, help.
Yes, he said.
Every single time.
Malone’s unwavering faith in the undrafted free agent signee is part of the reason Craig – on a two-way contract – was brought up from the G-League so quickly to play in the NBA. Here is another reason: 22.9 points, 8.1 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 2.0 blocks, 1.1 steals, 47.5 percent shooting from the field, and 38.6 percent shooting from the 3-point line. Craig, playing with the Sioux Falls Skyforce, dominated the G-League in a way that could not be ignored.
And in his first game with the Nuggets, he proved he was not just worthy of being there, but that he had staying power. That established, the Nuggets juggled his days with them and the G-League in accordance with rules governing two-way contracts until he was free to be with the big club full-time after the end of the G-League regular season.
With the Nuggets, Craig averaged 4.2 points and 3.3 rebounds, playing an average of 16.1 minutes in 39 games. His value to the Nuggets, however, went far beyond raw numbers. Craig was a player with a dogged defensive mindset that he first displayed for Malone and the rest of the Nuggets coaching staff in last year’s summer league. They knew then they wanted to get him on the roster. This summer, the Nuggets will work on getting him off of a two-way pact and in the fold full-time.
“It’s been a roller coaster of a season with the contract,” Craig said, with a wry grin.
Still, he credited the back-and-forth nature of it all with helping to create a detailed focus.
“Throughout the season, there’s stuff that made me stronger,” Craig said. “It actually made me focus more, and I think it helped make me a stronger player mentally.”
Defense was Craig’s calling card. He was arguably the Nuggets’ best isolation defender. His first major assignment came in his first game with the Nuggets -- to stop New Orleans’ Jrue Holiday in an end-of-game situation that would preserve an important victory over the Pelicans.
Craig went on to be tasked with guarding many other high-profile and high-scoring perimeter players. And in man-on-man defense, he held those players to a miniscule 24 percent from the field and 0.677 points per possession. He improved in guarding spot-up situations as the season wore on, being more disciplined in not straying too far from the shooter in order to get a solid contested shot. Craig, whose length aids his quickness and athleticism, profiles as a defensive stopper in the mold of Houston’s Trevor Ariza. And for a Nuggets team looking to improve on that end, Craig’s potential to be a real difference maker is intriguing.
Offensively, Craig was asked to space the court and knock down shots when opportunities presented themselves. As such, spot-up shooting (30.3 percent), transition (20 percent), and offensive rebound put backs (16 percent) were Craig’s most-used actions. Basically, everything that relied on movement and activity and being ready when the ball was swung to him. Craig shot 45 percent from the left corner 3-point line.
As his role grows, Craig will improve his ability to break down defenders and get his own shot, as well as continuing to be more consistent at the 3-point line. He was a 29.3 percent 3-point shooter overall in his games with the Nuggets. Over 74 percent of his made field goals were assisted.
Craig’s most common turnovers were errant passes and lost-ball miscues with a few court awareness (i.e.: stepping out of bounds along the sideline when taking 3-pointers) errors mixed in.
In all, Craig’s season was perhaps the most unexpected pleasant surprise on the team.
“He was one of the greatest stories of the season,” Nuggets president of basketball operations, Tim Connelly said. “He came here, took a chance on himself – had some more lucrative offers overseas. …He got rewarded with a two-way contract, and was impactful. I thought his energy on both ends was extremely helpful. ..I think it’s one of the coolest stories we’ve seen this season.”
Christopher Dempsey: email@example.com and @chrisadempsey on Twitter.