When you walk onto the Denver Nuggets practice court within the Pepsi Center, there are three phrases displayed proudly on the wall: hard work, trust, and selflessness.
Those three terms, while just words, became the basis of the Nuggets now incredibly-strong foundation that their championship hopes have been built upon.
While both hard work and trust are incredibly important traits, the most impactful of those three culture-building ideologies during the first 32 games of the 2019-20 season is unequivocally selflessness and no one has embodied that quite like Torrey Craig.
Craig’s path to the NBA was full of chaos and ups-and-downs, but by the time the Nuggets had lost Game 7 to the Portland Trail Blazers at home in the second round of the playoffs — Craig’s 11th start in Denver’s 14 playoff games last postseason — it seemed nearly impossible that Craig could find him on the outside of Malone’s rotation the following season.
Well, that proved to be a farce. As the Nuggets roster finally became healthy, Malone had an issue. He had 12 players on his roster deserving of playing time and only 10 spots to utilize. In addition to that, Michael Porter Jr. — who was a high school phenom and a player the Nuggets drafted to be a part of their long-term future — was finally ready to make his NBA debut after red-shirting his first year in the league.
That meant Craig — who had started 37 games and played 20 minutes per contest in 2017-18 — suddenly found himself in and out of the lineup as his head coach continued to tinker and search for a productive group of reserves.
That has led to Craig only playing 12.1 minutes per night and only appearing in 22 of Denver’s 32 games this season. Even more revealing is the fact that Craig has played less than 10 minutes in 20 of the Nuggets’ 32 games.
For now, the simple truth is that Torrey Craig is not a member of the Nuggets rotation. While that could change on any given night, the stability and consistency that he had last season is now gone.
Regardless of that fact, Craig has taken his less-than-ideal situation and found a way to help his team by actively, and happily, supporting his teammates. Craig has become the physical embodiment of the word ‘selflessness’ for the Nuggets and the team has been better because of it.
“I am not surprised because Torrey is a consummate pro,” Malone explained when asked about Craig’s willingness to support his teammates who are logging playing time instead of him. “…Think about it. Torrey started 11 playoff games for us last year. He is a great example for all of our guys because sacrifice and selflessness are easy things to talk about, but are much harder to live everyday. Torrey — like all of our guys — really lives it at a high level and that is why we are off to the start that we are off to.”
There was no better example of this than when Craig jumped off the bench after Porter threw down a put-back dunk in the fourth quarter against the Kings to put an exclamation point on his career-best game. As the Kings took a timeout to regroup after Porter logged his 18th and 19th points of the game, the first player on the floor to greet Porter with a dap and a hug was none other than Craig.
“Some people might think that is a little thing, but I think it is a huge thing,” Malone explained when asked how important it is that Craig makes gestures like the one explained above. “When I watch film, I don’t just watch the stuff on the court. I watch our bench. If there is a great play, is everybody up or are certain guys feeling sorry for themselves and not being into it because they are worrying about themselves?”
On the surface, it is easy to look at Craig’s situation and assume that there could be some animosity for his lack of playing time, but when asked if that is true, Craig was very clear that he only wants to see his teammate — and personal friend — succeed.
“No,” Craig told Mile High Sports unflinchingly when asked it if is tough to be supportive when watching someone take his playing time. “Me and Michael are close. We hang out off the court, talk a lot, and I try to give him a lot of advice and that kind of stuff. Anytime he does well, I am genuinely happy for him because I want to see him do well because he is a great player. Like I said, he is going to do great things in this league so it is all about timing and patience.”
That is a thought process that exists all the way throughout the Nuggets roster. When Will Barton III was asked the same question, he made it abundantly clear that there is no room for jealousy.
“We are with each other every day. When you are with people everyday, you want to see those people succeed,” Barton told Mile High Sports. “Where (I’m) from, we say that would be some clown sh*t.
“Mike ain’t deciding if Will is getting into the game. He is a player and I see him work hard just like anybody else. I want him to succeed. I can’t let what the f*ck I am going through make me not root for my teammate.”
Barring a trade, the Nuggets roster will remain stocked full of talented players who will not receive the playing time they deserve, but while that problem continues to persist, Malone can at least count on the selflessness of his team — led by Craig — to be one of the pillars that keeps the team chemistry strong as they continue to march towards their goal of an NBA Championship.