EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Phoenix Suns run it back with Torrey Craig in no-brainer acquisition

Feb 10, 2022, 4:31 PM | Updated: 4:33 pm

When a player leaves a team and a void behind as well, that player is used as an example for the role that team is trying to fill in the player’s absence. It is a better way to surmise and remember the spot.

If I say “fourth wing” on the roster to you, I might receive a groan or an eye roll. But “The Torrey Craig Role” instead? That’ll get your attention based on the past precedent we have for the impact it provides, a term we’ve used this season with the Suns.

We don’t talk much about Cam Johnson getting food poisoning in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals. That’s because Craig filled in admirably, playing 31 excellent minutes and registering a game-high +28 in the Western Conference-clinching win despite taking just three shots. Craig played a prominent part in the Suns’ successful effort to finally slow down the Los Angeles Clippers’ Paul George to a 6-of-15 shooting night after playing like a man possessed all series.

Just like last year, there were questions about Abdel Nader and the depth on the wing behind a stellar top-3 of Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder and Johnson. Craig answers those as a trade deadline pickup. Again.

The Suns brought Craig in just before Thursday’s deadline in exchange for Jalen Smith and a future second-round pick, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

Beyond that depth, Craig gives the Suns a small-ball 5 option they can turn to when they feel it’s necessary, like they did in the NBA Finals at times and also the conference finals.

More so, however, the Suns simply got a guy back who was a positive playoff contributor and who plays his freaking tail off.

Just watch how much energy he exudes across these two possessions. It is the type of relentless energy that is a signature of this team, and my goodness does he bring it.

Craig is an active body who knows when to move in Monty Williams’ offense, and if you pay attention enough, you’ll see how much it pays off.

Again, just focus on Craig. This might look like he’s getting in Devin Booker’s way until you realize he’s bringing the help for Booker in transition with him to the corner, all because he sprinted up the court.

Craig shot 50.3% from the field and 36.9% at 3-point range in the regular season for Phoenix and grabbed a terrific 4.8 rebounds per game in just 18.8 minutes a night. Rebounding has always been a tiny weakness of the Suns, a formality of starting Crowder and choosing to go without a “natural power forward.” They’ve made up for that through a gang rebounding mentality and that’s the type of physical mess Craig thrives in.

He crashes the glass often, something that isn’t a burden in transition defense because of the motor he plays with, and Craig’s just got that knack for finding the ball.

Check out this subtle move around Giannis Antetokounmpo in the first clip.

He snagged over six rebounds in six of his 32 games for Phoenix and had eight in that aforementioned Game 6.

When Deandre Ayton is busy, Craig is going to be the guy flying in out of nowhere to make sure no one else occupies that space.

Craig has no regard for protecting his body. The other week on Instagram, Craig posted a handful of videos from his career of instances where it looked like he seriously injured himself on a fall. He’s a madman.

Sometimes he comes out of the pile with the ball and sometimes he doesn’t. But Craig is a strong dude who will mix it up with anyone.

That ties into Craig’s largest value to the team as a defender, particularly as someone who can mark ball-handlers. If there’s a bigger wing a playoff opponent is playing through on the ball or even some guards, Craig can take that assignment.

Mikal Bridges can’t defend everyone and there are moments where primary options slip through the cracks of a traditional rotation, like how the Golden State Warriors use Stephen Curry a fair bunch with a few reserves in the middle portion of halves.

Craig helps further establish Phoenix as a team that is already pretty matchup proof. Because of how well Chris Paul, Deandre Ayton, Booker, Crowder and Bridges all defend, that’s a strong start to the claim before considering Johnson and Craig as extra plus defenders on the wing and JaVale McGee inside. Cam Payne and Landry Shamet are disciplined and pesky too.

When it comes down to forecasting potential opponents in the postseason, Craig fills in any gaps left across the rotation no matter how star-studded the other side is.

The best part of Craig’s game in Phoenix was that he fit in as a 0.5 guy, someone who can make quick decisions with the ball and understands how and when to make the right pass.

He only had nine assists in the playoffs, and are these passes below signs of the next Pistol Pete Maravich on our hands? Of course not, but again, it’s about making the right play. That really matters for him as a below average shooter.

Just so it’s said, this group loves Craig too. It felt a little weird looking at the bench in the early parts of the season and not seeing the vibes Craig, Jevon Carter and Langston Galloway brought there. As fans know by his style of play, Craig is a selfless basketball player and that is just about all you can ask for out of a teammate.

It’s hard to put a price on a proven commodity for a group in the playoffs. That’s what Craig is, a player the Suns get to hold under contract for next season too, and the price for Phoenix is what would have been its fifth-string center in the playoffs and a pick likely to fall in the 50s.

Smith is a failed experiment I have already elaborated on in this space and the value he brought to the center rotation with his solid play this year would have had to come to fruition through a laundry list of injuries. In most cases, draft picks should not matter during a logical pursuit of a championship like the one the Suns are in. So please don’t be that person if they so happened to trade the pick that becomes the next steal of the second round.

It’s not an Earth-shattering move, but if we’ve learned anything from how the Executive of the Year rolls, these are the types of strong maneuvers he built that resume on. James Jones is on quite the heater.

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