Andrew Price is the founder of SpatialJam.com and works with basketball analytics for the Brisbane Bullets, the former team of Torrey Craig. Craig was the standout player for the Denver Nuggets at the Las Vegas Summer League and his play has earned him a two-way contract with the Nuggets. Since Denver is relatively thin at small forward (and lacks there is a decent chance that Craig will become an important piece of Denver’s roster this season.
I reached out to Andrew for some backstory on Craig and for a brief scouting report. He responded with 1500 words breaking down his career path and skill set in excellent detail! Check it out below.
Torrey Craig’s new two-way contract with the Denver Nuggets is an impressive milestone for a player who has spent his entire professional career in Australia and New Zealand. It’s a career that demonstrates Torrey Craig’s work ethic, his ability to understand his role on a team and play to his strengths and is another one that deviates slightly from the trajectory taken by many imported players who come to this part of the world.
Following a successful college career for USC Upstate, Torrey Craig packed his bags and left the United States for the first time and moved to Queensland, Australia to join the Cairns Taipans on a one-year deal for their 2014-15 NBL season. The NBL is known for being a tough, grind-it-out type league where players straight out of the NCAA often struggle to contribute and compete against the strength and experience of the local talent. Many an import player has come to the NBL in recent years expecting to dominate and crashed head first into what is a well-coached, well-scouted league with a high level of both local talent and opposing imported talent to face off against – a daunting prospect for a young player far from home.
Craig’s first season with Cairns saw him come off the bench for 9 points and 6 rebounds per game. As with any rookie, he had his ups and downs – some games going off for 20 points and others scoring 0. It’s rare for an imported player (traditionally one of the more expensive players on a team’s roster) to come off the bench in the NBL. Whatever coach Aaron Fearne did with his team that season however seemed to work, as the Taipans finished top of the NBL ladder for the first time in their club’s history and made the NBL Finals despite being a small-budget team - even by NBL standards.
Instead of heading back to the USA or to Europe following his first professional season, Craig instead decided to head to New Zealand to play the 2015 season with the Wellington Saints. The New Zealand NBL is an even smaller, lower budget version of the Australian NBL. It is common for lesser import players from Australia to aim for a contract in the New Zealand league in the off-season to make sure they stay on Australian coaching radars and to help their chances at landing a deal back in the Australian NBL in the future. Fortunately, Craig was able to stretch his legs playing for Wellington, in a less rigid offence than he’d seen in Cairns. He led the team in scoring and rebounding and was named NZ NBL MVP, shooting at an impressive 44% from three during that season.
Cairns did reward Torrey Craig with another one-year contract following his NZ NBL performance and although Craig’s second season with Cairns did see an uptick in minutes he still spent the majority of the season coming off the bench – something that by this point had become the focus of many message boards and media reports as Craig continued to develop his game and often outperform the team’s starters. Despite again being limited in minutes, he went on to lead the team in rebounds and blocks and average 12 points per game in his sophomore NBL season.
Once more Torrey Craig shunned an off-season holiday and moved from sunny North Queensland back to cold and windy Wellington for another New Zealand NBL season. This time however, he led his team to their 9th NZ NBL championship and the first of his professional career, again leading the team in points and rebounds.
By this stage Craig had earned himself a reputation as a hard working player who was willing to do what was needed to win games, even if that meant sacrificing his own minutes and statistics to fit within a team system. This is a rare trait for imports, who often need the success of one season to leverage their next contract and who are usually the first to be cut when a team’s performance is not up to expectation.
Torrey Craig had become a known commodity in Australia and New Zealand and returned to the Australian NBL this time on a two year deal with the Brisbane Bullets to be coached by the head coach of the Australian national team, Andrej Lemanis. Here, he was finally given his well-earned starting spot and had a break-out season for the Bullets becoming just the second player to record a 30 point, 18 rebound game (since the league went to 40 minute games nine years ago). Craig finished second in rebounding for the season and shot the three at 40%. He also won the NBL Defensive Player of the Year award – an award that carries special weight in a league which prides itself on defence.
Craig’s two year deal with Brisbane was part of his reasoning to stay on the Gold Coast of Australia during the current NBL off-season and play for the Gold Coast Rollers in the Queensland Basketball League instead of returning to the New Zealand league. This meant he was able to remain within the Bullets training facilities and around the coaching staff during the off-season to continue to work on his game. He played 9 games for the Rollers (averaging a dominant 28 points and 10 rebounds per game) before leaving to join the Nuggets summer league roster.
Torrey Craig’s resume goes a long way to describing the type of player the Nuggets have signed. A hard working, humble individual who doesn’t shy away from hard work or personal sacrifice to improve both his own game as well as the game of those he shares the court with.
Style of Play
Torrey Craig is well known Downunder for being a tough, athletic defender and rebounder. He has the range to be a strong three point shooter when called upon and has nice touch around the rim. During his most recent season in Brisbane, he was commonly used to guard the primary scorer on opposing teams and his length, quickness and wingspan were real assets in this regard. The Australian NBL is overflowing with quick point guards so Craig was tested regularly in his ability to play on-ball defence against quick guards, often picking them up in a full court press. Winning 2016-17 NBL Defensive Player of the year was great recognition for his efforts in this area and was no doubt a factor for the Nuggets as they turn their focus to improving their defence for the coming season.
Craig’s points are primarily scored around the rim, often on offensive rebounds or from three. Craig is solid in a pick in roll and loves to go left to finish at the basket. Very few points come from two point jumpers and his overall shot efficiency has been trending upward as has worked on his shot across the past few seasons. A great example of his improving shot can be seen in his free throw shooting percentages. During his first season as a professional, Craig shot at just 45% from the free throw line but this has improved every season since, going from 45% to 66% to 75% to him having just shot 95% during his summer league sting with Denver (small sample size warning…).
Although leading the Brisbane Bullets in scoring this past season, Torrey Craig’s contribution to the team was arguably more important at the defensive end, as was seen through on court/off court numbers. With Craig on the bench, the Bullets saw big jumps in opponent’s shooting percentages and big decreases in forced turnovers, rim protection numbers and offensive rebounding. He is able to defend well across the board from post up plays to isolation and spot up jump shooters. Craig has good lateral movement and although somewhat undersized at his position, his wingspan and athleticism allow him to provide a level of rim protection as was demonstrated during Summer League when Craig led the Nuggets in blocks.
Craig’s hard working, relentless defense and his ability to guard multiple positions will be an asset to the Nuggets this coming season.