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Torrey Craig can still be Denver’s defensive ace

Harrison Wind Avatar
July 30, 2020

Heading into the NBA’s restart on June 30, the DNVR Nuggets crew is looking back on the Denver Nuggets’ season, where each player left off, a target stat that every player should shoot for, and one half-court heave or bold prediction for everyone on the Nuggets’ roster.

Where Torrey Craig left off

Torrey Craig’s 2019-20 campaign looks very similar to what he did last season.

His minutes dropped off slightly due to Michael Porter Jr.’s presence on Denver’s bench, but Craig averaged around the same points, rebounds and assists and shot a similar percentage from the field and 3-point range that he did in 2018-19. Also, like last season, Craig got hot from three as the calendar moved along. Craig shot under 32% from distance in October, November, December and January but sunk 44% of his triples in February and then 43% of his 3-pointers in March.

He had several standout moments defensively as well. Who can forget the defense Craig played against Russell Westbrook and James Harden in the Nuggets’ November win over the Rockets.

Craig is the same player now that he was last season and he’ll likely be a similar player for the duration of his NBA career. But that’s OK. And for the Nuggets, a team that desperately needs a bruising defender with long arms who’s not afraid to ruffle the feathers of the top Western Conference guards and wings, Craig has been an ideal fit.

The reason why Craig played in less overall games this season than last (50 to 75) was because of Porter’s arrival but also due to the Nuggets’ increased depth. At times, Denver played the matchups with Craig. If the Nuggets were playing a team with an All-Star level guard or wing like the Rockets or the Clippers, most of the time that was going to be a Craig game. If Denver was up against a team that didn’t have one, it was more likely to be a Porter game.

The Nuggets could use some version of that formula once the playoffs begin. I speculate that Porter will at least begin the NBA restart ahead of Craig on the depth chart and while you shouldn’t read into scrimmage data too much, Porter was the first sub off the bench in the Nuggets’ loss to the Magic on Monday. Craig finished out the fourth quarter alongside four of Denver’s reserves.

But if the Nuggets find themselves in a first-round matchup against the Rockets, I could see Craig leapfrogging Porter on the depth chart. If the current playoff matchups hold, a second-round matchup against Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and the Clippers would also likely signal heavy minutes for Craig.

I don’t think Craig’s impact will be as significant this time around as it was in last year’s playoffs, but you get the feeling he’ll be involved in a game-altering moment or two over the next several weeks.

Target Stat

40% shooting from three

Last season Craig shot 47% from 3-point range in the playoffs after converting on only 33% of his triples in the regular season. If Craig can hover around 40% from three in the playoffs this year he’ll be able to stay on the floor considering he’ll be the default option that defenses choose to leave open no matter what lineup he’s playing with.

Half-Court Heave

Torrey Craig starts a playoff game

Why can’t it happen again? Trailing the Spurs 2-1 in the first round of the playoffs last season, Malone inserted Craig into the starting lineup for a struggling Will Barton prior to Game 4. Forty eight minutes later Craig had scored 18 points (5-7 3FG’s) to go with seven rebounds while his defense on DeMar DeRozan helped tilt the series in Denver’s favor.

The Nuggets’ defense has been all over the place this season. Over the first 20 games of the 2018-19 campaign the Nuggets were the second-best defense in the league. But Denver had the NBA’s ninth-worst defense over the next 20 games and over the final 25 games before the league’s hiatus the Nuggets’ defense ranked 17th. Malone could look to Craig for some defensive stability if the going gets rough.

It’s also only a matter of time before the Nuggets face a dynamic offense that could force Malone into an adjustment. Any of the Lakers, Clippers, Rockets and Mavericks — the top-4 offenses in the league — could dot Denver’s path through the playoffs. If the Nuggets need to suddenly plug a whole in their defense, especially if they’re trailing in a series, elevating Craig is still likely Malone’s move.

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