When Phoenix Suns general manager James Jones dealt Jalen Smith for Torrey Craig mid last season, this current stretch of form is the exact return he would have been wishing for.
It was a controversial move at the time, moving on from a tenth overall pick so soon into his NBA career. The initial assessment wasn’t positive, unaided by Craig’s underwhelming postseason where he averaged less than eight minutes per game.
Torrey Craig’s early season form, and that of Jock Landale and Bismack Biyombo, could alter the perspective on the contentious deal the Phoenix Suns made last season.
By no means is the 32-year-old setting the world on fire, but it’s also unfair to judge him based purely on box score numbers. It’s the little things that prove so valuable to winning — flying in from the weak side for an offensive rebound and extra possession, coming up with a loose ball, getting a hand in to the poke the ball away from an opponent.
Offense was always the one thing holding Craig back, and it still is this season given he’s averaging just 15 minutes per game. This is a little bemusing though given his efficiency is at career-high levels — 63.6% is only the second time he’s been above 48%, while 46.2% from three is the first time he’s been above 37%.
These numbers are unsustainable throughout the entire regular season, but for a playoff run given his low volume, they’re numbers that, combined with the hustle plays, could prove incredibly impactful to Phoenix’s winning hopes.
The secondary facet to all this is the rise of Jock Landale, along with the continued presence of Bismack Biyombo. Prior to the season, Smith could have arguably staked a claim for the backup big position following the departure of Javale McGee to the Dallas Mavericks in free agency.
But would any version of Smith be more effective and valuable than Landale right now? The 22-year-old is putting up much better numbers than the Australian, yet that’s with much greater opportunity in an Indiana team that’s not prioritizing winning in the short-term.
In fact, given Phoenix got Landale for practically nothing, you could evaluate him as the true replacement for Smith. Craig’s moreso playing the role of wantaway veteran forward Jae Crowder, albeit with less playing time and reduced insistence on chucking up multiple threes per game.
The Craig-Smith deal still looks like a poor one from a Suns perspective, but the addition of Landale and the insurance of Biyombo means that it’s by no means a disaster. If Phoenix were to win a championship, with Craig delivering the kind of production he’s giving right now, then the tables could have turned completely on the evaluation of the trade.