If Cameron Johnson was old enough to ride the Mayflower before his rookie season in the NBA, imagine how old Torrey Craig felt.
New Suns wing Torrey Craig took a circuitous route to the NBA from South Carolina Upstate via Australia and New Zealand before finally landing with the Denver Nuggets for his rookie season at the old age of 27. Kinda sounds a little — or a lot — like former Sun P.J. Tucker, right?
That was 2017. Just under four years later, he’s still winning the fight for his NBA life and now hopes he’s found a home with the streaking Suns. Craig was a roster casualty in Milwaukee ahead of the trade deadline, and the Suns picked him up for some cash considerations.
“Once I found out it was Phoenix,” Craig said of finding out he was traded. “I was like, ah, that’s perfect because that’s one of the places I wanted to go anyway.”
Indeed, Craig played his first three seasons in Denver, even winning a rotation spot in a crowded Denver wing rotation. They were so loaded with playable wings, at last year’s trade deadline they sent out the talented Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez to the Wolves just to get them off the roster (they got basically nothing back). All three have gotten rotation time in Minnesota, with Beasley getting a $60 million extension. All I’m saying is that Craig — once undrafted and unwanted — beat them out for playing time.
At the end of the year, Denver was still overloaded with wings and let Torrey Craig sign elsewhere. Craig said he wanted Phoenix after seeing what they did in the Bubble, and had talked to James Jones and Monty Williams, but the speed of the COVID-impacted off season left him and the Suns having to make quick decisions.
“I actually wanted to come here,” Craig said before Tuesday’s game against Atlanta. “But some things happened, pretty crazy and pretty wild and unpredictable. Some things kind of fell through and I ended up going to Milwaukee.”
Could that have been the Chris Paul trade that brought in Abdel Nader, who profiled as a similar long wing for the deep bench?
“We tried to get him in the offseason,” Suns coach Monty Williams says.
But the Suns signed 40% three point shooting in Langston Galloway and E’Twaun Moore, letting Craig (career 32%) go to Milwaukee.
Now they’re all here together in The Valley anyway.
And Craig is having a great time in the point-five system, per a story from the bulldog Duane Rankin of azcentral.com and Arizona Republic.
"I think his personality, just jumping right into the fold. Mixing in the card games with the big-money guys at the front of the plane, shooting with the younger guys in practice." Monty Williams.— Duane Rankin (@DuaneRankin) March 31, 2021
Torrey Craig blending in with #Suns on and off the court. https://t.co/IQdw2sByv4 pic.twitter.com/Y4phBEZGA7
“It’s definitely been a different role with this team,” Craig said. “You get more opportunities, especially when it comes to getting shots and shooting the ball because. the guys play so free.”
In the most recent game, Craig scored 12 points, grabbed eight rebounds and generally looked like he was everywhere at once.
“Everyone touches the ball and gets an opportunity to get shots whereas in the past (I) didn’t have those same opportunities,” Craig continued. “Just trying to make the most of it and hopefully I make more.”
Certainly, Monty Williams already trusts him. With Abdel Nader on the shelf (knee) and Cam Johnson recovering from COVID, he needed a bigger wing to spell Mikal Bridges and Jae Crowder. Plus, Monty loves the way Craig has already made himself at home among his teammates off the court as well as on the court.
“I think his personality, just jumping right into the fold,” Williams said. “Mixing in the card games with the big-money guys at the front of the plane, shooting with the younger guys in practice, a lot like Jae (Crowder) in that regard. So I think that’s endeared him to his team and the staff.”
Craig is learning on the fly, with little to no time for teams to have walk-throughs or practices to help Craig learn the plays and actions. He’s okay with just going with the flow anyway.
“Visual is cool, but I like to be on the court, in the actions and see where players are going to be or make the right reads,” Craig said. “Digital, you can only do so much. You actually need to be out there involved in a lot of the stuff to learn to figure it out to make it easy for you and your teammates.”
The way Craig is playing in his rotational role with the Suns, you might start seeing more and more of him as the season goes on. He’s long, so he fills in gaps and allows the Suns to always have at least two of Crowder, Bridges, Johnson and Craig on the court at once.
Craig can guard just about every position. He said on FSAZ recently that he loves guarding little guards because they hate his length and physicality, and at 6’7”, 220 pounds with super long arms he’s got the same ability as Crowder to spot time at the four as well. This fits well in the Suns’ switch-everything scheme, allowing them to swallow up the competition with length.
Get to know Torrey Craig. He’s a keeper.