The Phoenix Suns feel like one of the most dominant NBA title contenders that people refuse to talk about with the same frequency as big-market teams like the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets. Their subtle approach at the Feb. 10 trade deadline only enhances the surprisingly modest aura surrounding the league’s best team. Still, the moves the Suns did make should go a long way in fully rounding out the roster, especially as it pertains to veteran swingman Torrey Craig.
Phoenix acquired Craig from the Milwaukee Bucks ahead of the 2021 deadline, only to fall short against Craig’s former team in the NBA Finals. However, he’ll get another chance with the Suns, as Phoenix traded Jalen Smith and a future second-round pick to bring Craig back to the desert.
The Suns are again relying on the 31-year-old to provide wing depth and soak up frontcourt minutes. Craig can do just that, and he’s the kind of two-way bench piece who might put the final stamp on Phoenix’s title hopes.
The Suns needed help on the wings before the NBA trade deadline
The Suns have a pair of strong wings in Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson. They needed to solidify their group in that area.
Bridges has validated his offseason contract extension with tremendous defense while giving the Suns a savvy off-ball cutter and viable floor-spacer. Johnson has made a leap in his third season, averaging career-high marks in scoring average (11.9) and rebounds (4.2) while shooting a stellar 43.1% from beyond the arc. He’s also been a surprisingly solid defensive presence.
But it’s bare-bones for Phoenix outside of those two.
The Suns typically deploy Jae Crowder as an undersized 4-man. Landry Shamet is injured and is more of a 2-guard, anyway. Dario Saric is out for the season. The team’s other frontcourt players — Deandre Ayton, JaVale McGee, and Bismack Biyombo — are fairly traditional centers.
Phoenix came into the trade deadline as perhaps the most balanced team in the NBA. The Suns merely had to refine the roster and add key bench pieces capable of playing significant minutes when called upon.
Torrey Craig is the perfect addition in that regard.
Torrey Craig thrives in his debut
Craig sure looked happy to be back in the desert this weekend.
In his first game back with the Suns on Feb. 12, Craig had 14 points, four assists, three rebounds, and two steals in a blowout win over the Orlando Magic. He went 6-of-9 from the field, including 2-of-3 from beyond the arc, and finished the contest +21 in terms of plus-minus. That stat line underscores all the things Craig does on the floor.
The South Carolinian can slot right into a 3-and-D role while offering a long and athletic defensive playmaker on the other end. He runs the floor in transition and can finish at the rim or find corner shooters off drives. On one such possession against the Magic, Craig snatched a defensive board and, with Orlando’s transition defense not set, raced right past Robin Lopez and went coast-to-coast for an easy layup.
Granted, Craig had the good fortune of facing a Magic team with the second-worst record in the NBA. Still, he’s a guy who can push the pace, knock down open jumpers, and take on the opposing teams’ best wing scorers.
Phoenix might have benefited from a more established wing scorer like Eric Gordon, but that didn’t prove necessary. Craig is the final piece for this Suns team, which has everything it needs to win a title this season.
The Suns are clear title favorites
The Golden State Warriors, Memphis Grizzlies, Miami Heat, and Milwaukee Bucks all look like legitimate NBA championship contenders. However, it’s hard to put any of those teams above the Suns as title favorites.
Phoenix ranks third in offensive and defensive rating. It leads the NBA in net rating. The Suns are second in total field-goal percentage and sixth in three-point shooting. They rank in the top five in rebounding and assists. Additionally, Phoenix turns opponents over almost 15 times per game while ranking sixth in giveaway rate.
The Suns could have tried to make a play for a star like Domantas Sabonis, who now plays for the Kings in Sacramento. But, as the saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Phoenix already had a championship foundation. Craig is the piece that sows everything together. This time, he and the Suns will hope to close the deal.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.