LAS VEGAS – Over the past few months, it hasn’t been uncommon to see Torrey Craig practicing his three-pointer. He’s been doing it literally everywhere, from Denver to Las Vegas, and against any opposition, ranging from Will Barton to random players who ply their trade overseas. That continued Monday at the USA Select Team practice at the Cox Pavilion.
Craig’s release from downtown appears to be slightly quicker than it was last season and he was consistently draining triples throughout the team’s shooting session at the end of practice. Not bad for a player who shot 29.3 percent from behind the arc just two years ago in his first season in the NBA.
“I’ve been trying to improve my outside game [this offseason],” Craig told Nuggets.com. “I think I shot it pretty well in the playoffs, but during the season I think I shot in the thirties. If I can get that up to be more consistent, I think that will make me a more valuable player.”
Craig shot 32.4 percent from downtown during the regular season, but showed dramatic improvement in the postseason as he converted at a 47.2 percent rate. His five threes was a difference maker in the Nuggets’ 117-103 win against the San Antonio Spurs in Game 4 of the first round. Craig knows that hitting that shot at a consistent rate will allow him to stay on the floor and do what he does best: Play game-changing defense.
Craig often alternated with teammate Gary Harris to slow down the opposition’s top player, with assignments ranging from Damian Lillard to DeMar DeRozan. The 28-year-old small forward believes he is an elite-level defender and his play in that side of the court is a significant reason why he was invited to be a part of the USA Select Team.
In the latest Five Questions, Craig discussed his reaction to his USA Select Team invite, his ambitions of being an All-Defensive Team player and why he feels the Nuggets will contend this season.
Here are his responses:
[Note: Responses have been edited for clarity and brevity purposes.]
What was your reaction when you found out you were being selected to the USA Select Team? How did you find out?
It was a pretty cool feeling. Not a lot of guys get a chance to experience this, [it] is a pretty cool opportunity. I’m going to take advantage of it, have fun and mingle with the guys. Go out here and get better and learn as much as I can.
My agent was the first one to tell me that I was selected, so I had to immediately book flights and change my schedule to fly here. I was spending time with my son back home and I was [originally] going to play in this charity game [before finding out].
How does it feel to be one of the elder statesmen of the Select Team? Is it different from what you’re used to?
I’m definitely trying to be more vocal – trying to use the experience I had this season to help the young guys out on certain calls and switches. [Helping them] in different situations because I’ve seen a lot of what we’re doing out here so just trying to be a vocal leader to the young guys.
What does it mean to represent your country?
It means everything. As a kid, you see guys do it all the time. You wish and hope to one day be in a position like that. Now, for it to be in fruition, it’s an amazing feeling. We take pride in this country and playing basketball so I’m just going to go out there and represent it in the best way I know how.
There’s been a lot of moves made this offseason, why will the Nuggets remain contenders in the West this season? Thoughts on the move for Jerami Grant?
I think our chemistry is the biggest thing. A lot of guys going different places, I think they’re going to struggle with chemistry early on whereas with us, we’re familiar with each other. Everyone knows their role and we play for one another. Our chemistry is definitely going to give us an advantage, but the West is going to be tough [this season]. There’s a lot of great players out in the West and we’re looking forward to the challenge. We’re ready to get started.
[Jerami Grant is] the perfect fit for us. He’s a defender, athletic, he’s the perfect fit for a system like ours so I think he’ll do well.
Finish this sentence, next season will be a success for you personally if _____
Depending on how everything pans out, my goal is to make a defensive team next year. If I make it to a defensive team, it will be a successful season for me.
Team wise, I think we’re going to do well. We learned a lot in the playoffs last year so getting that under our feet and knowing what to expect, I think is going to do a lot for us.