The Denver Nuggets elected to bring back small forward Torrey Craig, last season’s impressive two-way contract darling, on a two-year, $4-million guaranteed deal, per Shams Charania. After tendering him a qualifying offer earlier this offseason, Craig reportedly passed up more money to remain with the team that gave him his big break.
The Denver Nuggets are signing forward/guard Torrey Craig to a guaranteed two-year, $4M deal, agent Johnny Foster tells Yahoo.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) July 9, 2018
After spending last season on a two-way contract, Craig will assume the departed Wilson Chandler‘s spot on the 15-man roster in the Mile High City for the 2018-19 season. In a thrilling 39 games of action last year, Craig put up 4.2 points and snatched 3.3 rebounds in an energy-filled 16.1 minutes per game. Craig brought a distinct element to the court for Denver — an intensity and defensive energy that the Nuggets sorely lacked at times.
T-Craig quickly blossomed into one of head coach Michael Malone’s favorite players on the roster for his defensive prowess and grinder attitude. In fact, Malone referred to Craig as the team’s best defender during preseason action. Craig’s primary role was to swarm the other team’s best wing or guard on the floor once he arrived in Denver from the G League. From blocking Jrue Holiday‘s game-winning attempt to send his first game with the team to overtime to doing his best to pester Russell Westbrook on defense while shooting a perfect five of five from the field just a few games later, Craig rapidly cemented his status as a fan favorite as well.
First and foremost, Craig is on the court to provide a defensive presence, but if he could improve his game on offense, Craig will make this deal look brilliant for the Nuggets’ front office. He is still developing despite being a 27-year-old rookie, but his offensive game in the G League was spectacular.
Craig put up 22.9 points, 8.1 boards, 3.4 dimes and two blocks per game on 48 percent shooting from the field and 39 percent from distance during big minutes in 15 games with the Sioux Falls Skyforce. When called up to the big league last year, Craig put up just 4.2 points, 3.3 rebounds, 0.6 assists and 0.4 blocks in a little more than 16 minutes per game, and he only shot 29.3 percent from deep and 62.9 percent from the stripe.
While he has shown only brief flashes on the offensive end, it would be nice to see Craig take a solid step forward in the shooting department next season. Craig will likely never be this team’s — or even this bench unit’s — primary scoring option, so Craig should focus first on canning open jumpers when he gets a good look, but he should also continue running the floor in transition and putting back offensive-rebound opportunities. While he shouldn’t be asked to handle the ball much, his off-ball energy, nose for the ball and the shooting stroke he showed off with Sioux Falls make him an ideal fit alongside Nikola Jokić in the Nuggets free-flowing offense.
Torrey Craig looking good on his jumper. Should the Nuggets guarantee his contract? pic.twitter.com/OWnokMRtTM
— Dig In Denver (@DigInDenver) July 4, 2018
Coming off of being named the 2016-17 NBL Best Defensive Player, Craig ‘s calling-card was his work on the defensive end of the floor. His attention to detail certainly improved the defensive presence of the squad, and it allowed him to earn minutes at the NBA level last year.
Craig’s impressive wingspan and knack for being in the right place at the right time forced offensive players into bad decisions with the ball and poor shots more often than many of the other Nuggets players last year. However, after finishing in the bottom five of team defensive rating in consecutive seasons, Denver’s defense isn’t exactly striking fear in the heart of many opponents.
In a late-season, must-win game against the Clippers, Craig showed off his complete defensive skill set, recording three blocks and a steal en route to a blowout victory. Craig’s ability on the defensive end is what sets him apart on this roster — and it should allow him to earn significant minutes during the 2018-19 season with Denver.
Having shown an impressive impact with the Nuggets last year, Craig has earned a permanent spot in the rotation. With Chandler gone and Will Barton likely moved to the starting group, there’s a significant opportunity for Craig to soak up a lot of minutes coming off the bench on the wing this year.
Behind Gary Harris and Barton, the wing depth appears pretty shallow. Combo forwards Juancho Hernangomez, Trey Lyles and Tyler Lydon are all too slow to keep up with many perimeter matchups out on the wing, and I would argue each of the three players is better suited as a stretch four down the road. Malik Beasley appears poised to step into a larger role next year, but following an uneven Summer League performance (at least to this point) I’m not confident he’s locked up consistent minutes next year.
Unfortunately for Denver, the Nuggets are still well over the luxury-tax line and this signing adds to their bill. Look for Kenneth Faried, Darrell Arthur and/or Mason Plumlee to be moved or dumped, which could get the Nuggets out of the tax completely. Additionally, the Nuggets have now filled 14 of their 15 full-time roster spots and Monte Morris is campaigning strongly for the backup point guard role — and the final spot on the roster.
Clearly, Craig has carved out a distinct role on this roster, and he will be an integral member of the team moving forward. After developing into one of the feel-good stories of the season last year, it’s wonderful to see Craig’s hard work and determination rewarded with a two-year deal.
Shouts out, Torrey, you earned it! “Shoeys” all around!