Torrey Craig Discusses Joining the Pacers

August 26, 2021 - New forward Torrey Craig discusses his decision to join the Indiana Pacers as well as his role with the Pacers roster.

Torrey Craig

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Torrey Craig Discusses Joining the Pacers

August 26, 2021 - New forward Torrey Craig discusses his decision to join the Indiana Pacers as well as his role with the Pacers roster.
Aug 26, 2021  |  02:43

Craig Brings Winning Pedigree to Indiana

by Wheat Hotchkiss
Pacers.com Writer/Editor
@Wheat_Hotchkiss

It was a relatively quiet summer for the Pacers in free agency. The core of the team was already under contract and the team's top priority was re-signing point guard T.J. McConnell, the leader of the second unit.

The team added several rookies to the roster, drafting Chris Duarte and Isaiah Jackson in the first round of the NBA Draft and signing Duane Washington Jr. and DeJon Jarreau to two-way contracts. But Indiana acquired just one veteran this offseason, signing 30-year-old forward Torrey Craig.

Craig may not be a household name to casual NBA fans, but the Pacers valued a number of attributes in the 6-7, 220-pound forward.

"Torrey is known for toughness, defense and being a great team guy," Pacers President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard said when Craig's signing was announced on Aug. 20. "As a player who went undrafted, Torrey got to where he is through hard work and perseverance. He will be a great addition to our depth and our emphasis on defense."

A versatile forward who has started 77 games and appeared in 222 over four NBA seasons, Craig's hard-nosed style seemed like an ideal match for a Pacers franchise hoping to reestablish its traditional defensive identity under new head coach Rick Carlisle.

"Just the culture there," Craig said Thursday when asked why he signed with Indiana. "Playing against them all the time, (knowing) how hard they play, how hard they compete. I thought it was the perfect fit for me."

Craig's journey to the NBA is one that certainly will resonate with Pacers fans.

He starred for four years in relative anonymity at the University of South Carolina Upstate, where he scored over 2,000 career points and was a three-time first-team All-Atlantic Sun selection, winning Player of the Year in 2012. But he went undrafted in 2014 and wound up heading to Australia, where he played his first professional season with the Cairns Taipans of the NBL.

Craig spent three years playing in Australia and New Zealand, suiting up for four different clubs over that span. Craig's big break came in the summer of 2017, when he returned to the United States and joined the Denver Nuggets' Summer League team.

Craig played great over that stretch in Las Vegas, averaging 11.5 points and 4.8 rebounds. He was dominant on both ends in a win over Houston on July 12, tallying 27 points, 11 boards, and three blocks. His strong play led to Denver offering him a two-way contract for the 2017-18 season.

"Coming out of college and even playing overseas, one of the biggest things for me was never my ability to play or compete in the NBA, it was getting the opportunity," Craig said. "Once I got the opportunity, I knew I was going to make the most of it."

He split his rookie season between the Nuggets and the Sioux Falls Skyforce in the NBA G League. Despite the limitations of his two-way contract, which restricts the amount of days a player can spend with the NBA team, Craig appeared in 39 games and started five for the Nuggets, earning playing time thanks to his defensive prowess.

That summer he signed a two-year deal to remain in Denver and established himself as a valuable member of the Nuggets' rotation over the next two seasons, starting just under half of 133 games over that span, averaging 5.6 points and 3.4 rebounds. Denver secured a top-three seed in the Western Conference in each of those seasons, reaching the Western Conference Finals in 2020. Craig started 11 of 14 playoff games in 2019 and saw his minutes increase over his regular-season average each postseason.

Craig then signed with Milwaukee prior to last season. He suffered a nasal fracture that kept him out of nine games at the beginning of the year and then struggled to crack the rotation upon his return. He appeared in 18 games for the Bucks, but did not play due to coach's decision in 13 contests before ultimately being traded to Phoenix for cash considerations on March 18.

He made the most of his fresh start with the Suns, averaging 7.2 points and 4.8 rebounds and shooting 36.9 percent from 3-point range in 32 regular-season contests. He remained in the rotation in the playoffs, appearing in all 22 games as the Suns advanced to the Finals for the first time since 1993.

As chance would have it, Phoenix met Milwaukee in the Finals. Because Craig had played for both teams during the season, the matchup meant that he would receive a championship ring regardless of the outcome of the series. Ultimately, the Bucks prevailed in six games, so while Craig was on the losing end with the Suns, he will still receive a ring from Milwaukee.

"It's definitely a unique situation to be in, but you obviously want to win the ring with the team that you're currently playing for, which was Phoenix at the time," he said. "I would have liked the ring a lot more if I got it with Phoenix."

Torrey Craig, Giannis Antetokounmpo

After starting last season as teammates with Giannis Antetokounmpo, Torrey Craig wound up guarding him in the 2021 NBA Finals. (Photo Credit: NBAE/Getty Images)

Craig can bring a unique perspective to the Pacers' locker room next season, having been a part of three different teams that all went on deep playoff runs over the past few years. He saw a lot of similarities in how each franchise approached the game.

"It's those same habits, those same morals," he said. "The leadership, the small things that all contribute to winning. We had that in Denver. They had it in Milwaukee and then obviously in Phoenix. Those were three teams that had similar characteristics when it came to winning and just playing together and being tough. I expect no different from here in Indy.

"All it takes is a couple of guys to recognize it and get on board and it's kind of like an effect where it goes down the whole line and everybody buys in and wants to win and wants to play at a high level and minimizes mistakes and just plays together."

Craig's experience will be an asset for the Pacers no matter what next season, but his exact role on the court is to be determined.

Assuming Indiana's starting five of Malcolm Brogdon, Caris LeVert, T.J. Warren, Domantas Sabonis, and Myles Turner enters the season healthy, there figures to be a healthy competition for playing time on the second unit. McConnell, Justin Holiday, and Jeremy Lamb all have been in the rotation the past two seasons, while Edmond Sumner, Goga Bitadze, and Oshae Brissett all impressed in increased playing time during last season's injury-riddled campaign. The 24-year-old Duarte also seems poised to earn minutes as a rookie after a strong showing at Summer League. And then there's Craig, a valuable contributor on a team that reached the Finals.

With everyone healthy, that leaves 13 players with legitimate arguments to be in the rotation. Something will definitely have to give there, as long as the Pacers can buck recent trends and stay injury-free.

Still, Craig figures to have as good a chance as anyone to earn regular playing time thanks to his skillset. While he is capable of contributing offensively and posted the best 3-point percentage of his career a year ago, Craig is a player that doesn't need the ball in his hands. He has carved out a niche in the NBA thanks to his defensive strengths, where his length and athleticism allow him to guard several positions.

"I take all the pride in the world in being a defender," Craig said. "It's definitely a pride thing. I don't even like guys to score one basket (on me)...I think the more guys that have that mentality and catch on, that's what makes you a hard team to beat.

"Because offense — it's the NBA, guys are talented. (There are) definitely some talented scorers on this roster, so offense is going to come. But when you can get a team to lock in offensively and defensively, that's when you can become a championship contender."

Carlisle has been vocal about wanting the Pacers to improve defensively and Craig seems like an ideal fit from that perspective. Craig said that Carlisle texts with him nearly every day and the two recently spent time together in Las Vegas during Summer League.

Craig decided to travel to Vegas to watch the Pacers play and meet the coaching staff. While there, he also spent time in the gym with Turner and LeVert in addition to Carlisle. He has spoken with a few more of his teammates and looks forward to getting together in training camp, where he is optimistic about what this team can accomplish under Carlisle's tutelage.

"Watching him with Dallas, their pace of offense, their movement and how he orchestrated that team, I think that's going to translate here in Indiana," Craig said. "It's going to be fun to be a part of."

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