The Denver Nuggets have given rookie Torrey Craig an opportunity to perform, and he certainly hasn’t disappointed.
When the Nuggets recalled Torrey Craig last Friday they made it clear it wasn’t just to ride the pine as Nuggets head coach Michael Malone has started Craig in his first two games after being recalled from the Sioux Falls Skyforce. In the G-League, Craig is averaging 25.2 points, 8.2 rebounds, 1.1 steals, and two blocks per game. Craig has played in 10 games with the Skyforce and averages 37 minutes per game.
Craig is currently on a two-way contract and is only given 45 days of NBA service time. When DID caught up with Craig during media day he talked about being ready whenever the Nuggets give him the call and how he handles having to be prepared at all times.
“Yeah exactly. My main thing is to stay prepared at all times, but always be ready you never know what may happen. NBA seasons are so crazy with so many moving pieces during the season so I am going to just enjoy the process and be ready whenever they need me.”
The story of how Craig got called up last week is pretty crazy and just shows to the determination and passion Craig has to be successful. This excerpt in an article from Nuggets and Altitude Sports Insider Chris Dempsey highlights the “whirlwind” day that Craig had last Friday before the Pelicans game.
“The call came late on Thursday night. Torrey Craig would be transferred from his G League assignment to the Nuggets. Craig needed transportation to the airport. He ordered an Uber. At midnight. In Oshkosh, Wisconsin (pop: 64,579).
He checked in at the airport at 4:30 a.m. The plane arrived in Denver around 7 a.m. and Craig came straight to the arena. He participated in shootaround, and was told he would be starting the game.
He napped for two hours in the afternoon, and arrived back at the Pepsi Center for the game. So, after a four-hour flight and minimal sleep, Craig was tossed right in the starting lineup and, in the fourth quarter, had to come up with the game’s most critical stop – a blocked shot that sent the game into overtime.” -Chris Dempsey
Craig has now been up with the Nuggets for three games this season and has been phenomenal the last two games. Craig’s first career start came against the New Orleans Pelicans in a game where he scored six points, hauled in four rebounds, and added in two blocks. Craig was tasked with guarding one of the Pelicans best players in Jrue Holiday and had a game saving block in the final seconds that sent the game into overtime.
Torrey Craig, you guys. OT pic.twitter.com/ipoMAr3vTM
— Michael Gallagher (@MikeSGallagher) December 16, 2017
After starting and playing well against the Pelicans, Craig drew the start against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday night. Craig was tasked with guarding Russell Westbrook for most of the night and did a great job making it hard on the reigning MVP. Westbrook ended up getting hot in the fourth quarter, but was forced to take some fairly tough shots all night as Craig only let Westbrook get to the rim with an uncontested shot just one time. Craig fouled Westbrook with 1.7 seconds left in the game and ultimately allowed Westrbook to make the game winning free-throw. But, for most of that final play Craig did a great job defending Westbrook, but got unlucky as Westbrook fumbled the ball when Craig went up to contest the shot, and was able to regain possession and draw the foul on Craig. A tough foul that essentially sealed the game for the Thunder, but still showed how the Nuggets view Craig as a player as he was the primary defender on the opponents shot taker to close the game for the second consecutive contest.
What Craig also showed on Wednesday night was the ability to score on the offensive end of the court. Craig scored a career high 14 points on 5/5 from the field, 3/3 from behind the arc. Craig also added in a block and a steal, while playing a career high 30 minutes.
— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) December 19, 2017
Have you heard about this Torrey Craig guy?
Dude can ball. pic.twitter.com/d2AQwFv5mo
— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) December 19, 2017
What Craig showed Monday night against the Thunder is that he won’t back down from NBA competition. Whether he was guarding Westbrook, Paul George, Or Carmelo Anthony, Craig wouldn’t back down. When I caught up with Craig at media day I asked him his thoughts on potentially guarding the opposing teams best player night in and night out.
“Yeah for sure. They told me that from day one that they needed a lockdown defender and a guy who is athletic and can defend multiple positions. In summer league I actually guarded one through five so they were impressed with that and that’s definitely one of the qualities they said they were looking for.”
From day one the Nuggets were looking for a lock down defender, and they may have found it in Torrey Craig. When Craig was playing in Australia and in the New Zealand basketball league he was named MVP of the league in 2015 and took home defensive player of the year in 2017. When I asked Craig his thoughts on which one of those seasons was most memorable, Craig’s answer was a bit of a surprise.
“I’d say the defensive player of the year season. I took pride because I was there for three years and each three years the league got better with better guys and better imports so I always took the role of guarding the best player on each team and I ended up being the defensive player of the year. So yeah I was really proud of that season.”
You would think that most players would take the MVP season as their most memorable, but Craig takes so much pride in his defense that 2017 stood out the most. Craig’s pride in his defense is what makes him so special and its what makes him a potential lockdown defender for the Nuggets moving forward. The Nuggets have had their defensive struggles the last couple of seasons and really haven’t had a defensive minded player besides shooting guard Gary Harris. Craig has the ability to give the Nuggets that player that can lock down the opposing teams better half night in and night out, while also contributing on the offensive end of the court. Its been a small sample size for Craig so far this season, but he’s shown the flashes of what the Nuggets saw from him in his time overseas and during summer league.
It’ll be interesting to see how long Craig stays up with the Nuggets considering Paul Millsap’s injury and the fact that Nuggets second year forward Juancho Hernangomez still seems to be recovering from a long summer and a stint with mononucleosis. Craig’s 45 days of NBA service may get used up sooner rather then later if he keeps up his strong play. The Nuggets don’t have a roster spot available for Craig and would have to consolidate the roster if they were to sign Craig to a straight NBA contract. Trades in the NBA are a lot harder then people make them out to be and it may ultimately derail how long it takes for Craig to stick with the Nuggets for an extended period of time.
One things for certain though and it’s that Torrey Craig has showcased that he can be an NBA player and a productive one at that. Craig gave up everything he had in Australia to bet on himself and come to the NBA over the summer, so far, the decision has paid off.
“Yeah for sure, for sure. I was essentially giving up everything I had over there because I was on the verge of getting my citizenship so I had to stay in the country and I had to give that up to take a chance over here. I had no choice but to better myself and showcase what I could do and it paid off.”