As part of Denver Stiffs’ transition from Denver Nuggets postseason coverage to offseason coverage, staff members will be conducting End of Season Reviews for all 17 players on the roster. There will continue to be news, NBA draft, free agency, and trade articles, but over the next three weeks, an accompanying End of Season review (or two) will also post every week day.
Today’s review: Torrey Craig
The Denver Nuggets front office makes a habit of finding diamonds in the rough. Their star player was selected with the 41st overall pick, their backup point guard is likewise a second rounder. They have a unicorn in Bol Bol they waited until the second round to select, they picked up P.J. Dozier in the offseason on a two way deal and he looks like a key contributor to the rotation in the future, they snagged Vlatko Cancar in the second round and let him develop in Europe before bringing him over to be part of their roster. Other than Nikola Jokic, who’s talent made him impossible to not play early on, these guys all followed, or are following, a path to becoming an NBA rotation player in the footsteps of Torrey Craig.
The Nuggets found Craig while he was playing in the NBL in Australia. They gave him a spot on the summer league roster which turned into a training camp invite which turned into a 2-way deal which led to a guaranteed contract to be a bench warmer which became a spot in the every day rotation. Craig earned his spot in the NBA the hard way, no doubt about it. He earned it through grit and determination...and playing really strong defense. He’ll never be the guy teams look to for the final shot in a close game, but he will be the guy they put on the opposition’s best player for the final shot in a close game. Craig’s defense kept him on the court throughout the 2020 playoffs where he often drew the likes of Donovan Mitchell, Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James as his defensive assignment. Now a free agent, Torrey’s about to find out how much his defense is truly worth in the NBA and whether or not it’s enough for what Denver is looking for in a reserve wing.
Michael Porter Jr. Regular Season/Playoff stats
It was much of the same from Torrey this season. Now in his third year in the NBA his role is clearly defined as a defender off the bench who can be thrust in the starting lineup when the matchup dictates the need for his skill set. When Gary Harris was dealing with injuries this year Craig often found himself as a starter but otherwise was generally coming off the bench. His per game averages were right in the range with last year’s as were his shooting numbers. Just a couple of months away from turning 30, Torrey’s a guy that people shouldn’t expect to make some meteoric leap in his skill set. However, he should be commended for backing up what he’s shown the past two years: Torrey Craig is an NBA rotation player.
At first glance at the stat sheet it might not appear that way but Torrey’s skillset doesn’t often translate into counting stats. His defensive impact is difficult to quantify and so is his hustle, though that shows up when you consider his 6.6% offensive rebound percentage from a wing position. Perhaps one of the biggest things Torrey can offer is health. While he racked up some DNP-CDs at times this year, Torrey was available to coach Michael Malone throughout the season and, once he he was able to get there, in the bubble which is something that few players on Denver’s roster can say.
This isn’t to say that Craig was a massive part of the rotation either though. Make no mistake, his defense is very much needed on this team, but defense and offensive rebounding are essentially where his value ends. Like I said, Craig is who he is at this point in his career, but what he is on the offensive end of the ball is a guy who shoots below league average from three, doesn’t have the ball handling skills or quickness to routinely beat players off the dribble and often can struggle finishing at the rim. He’s got great chemistry with Nikola so he’s a frequent the recipient of an easy bucket thanks to a good cut and pass but he’s never going to be a weapon on that end. In fact, he’s often the player opposing defenses elect to leave open and that caused issues for Denver in the playoffs where Torrey shot just 26.2% from three.
Season Grade: B
Listen, if you were expecting Torrey to take a leap this year and become a 40% three point shooter or otherwise be anything more than the guy in the corner on offense then that’s on you. The fact f the matter is this year, just like every year, Torrey did his job and did it to the best of his ability. The only reason I don’t give him an A for the year is his calling card is defense but that got exposed a bit in the playoffs, particularly in the first round. Torrey opened the playoffs as a starter but was sent to the bench after being ineffective in slowing down Donovan Mitchell. To Torrey’s credit, only Harris was able to slow Mitchell so it wasn’t just Torrey getting cooked early in that Utah series but for a guy who makes his hay as a perimeter defender it was alarming to see him be unable to even slow down a premier player like Mitchell. All in all though a very solid year for the tenth man in the rotation.
Season Highlight: Denying Devin Booker at the buzzer
In typical Torrey fashion, one of his best performances of the year and his best moment of the season came on defense in a game where he scored zero points. It was just game two of the 2019-2020 season and Denver was in danger of giving up the game to the Phoenix Suns at the Pepsi Center. Craig and Harris were relentless on Booker all night long but the Nuggets allowed some other, less heralded Suns (see: Kaminsky, Frank & Baynes, Aron) to keep Phoenix in the game. Booker had a shot to win it at the end of overtime, but was met by Craig at the rim who sent the shot flying back (his fourth block of the game). That play sealed the deal on a 108-107 win.
#NuggsSZNRewind moment 9: Torrey Craig's game-saving block vs. Suns
TC came to the rescue in our home-opener against Phoenix! #NuggsSZNRewindPosted by Denver Nuggets on Wednesday, October 7, 2020
What’s next for Torrey Craig
Craig is a restricted free agent this offseason meaning he is free to accept an offer from any team, but the Nuggets retain the right to match any offer he accepts. Torrey made just a little more than $2 million this season and could be due for a small raise. It’s expected that the bi-annual exception will be just around $4 million this year and that’s probably the ceiling for Torrey’s earning potential. I’m not sure the Nuggets go that high with an offer but with the BAE generally being available to everyone (or they have requisite cap space) it’s certainly possible that a team out there sees Torrey as a nice piece to add to the roster and also sees $4 million as not too high of a risk to pry Craig away. No doubt the Nuggets will be interested in retaining his services though. Should Torrey receive offers similar to his current level of compensation it’s not hard at all to see Denver match said offer. Craig is trusted by the organization and the coach, has a well defined role in the rotation and fills a need the Nuggets otherwise struggle to assuage. Given the Nuggets will also likely be right up against the tax line again this year, getting Torrey back on another $2-3 million deal is far from a bad thing.