Suns forward Warren leads team by example, not words
PHOENIX — While Phoenix Suns players such as guard Devin Booker, forward Josh Jackson and center Tyson Chandler are consistently bombarded with media questions following practice, forward T.J. Warren can often be seen with his head down and his warm-up hood on, trying to attract as little attention as possible as he leaves the court.
It is not as if reporters are not interested in his opinion on the team, what he has worked on in his game or the various other storylines that pop up throughout the season. Warren, 24, simply does not have a lot to say to reporters on a regular basis.
His Suns teammates and coaches also say they have trouble getting him to talk.
“You’re not the only ones, don’t feel bad,” coach Jay Triano said.
At a young age, Warren was a gifted scorer, which landed him a spot at Brewster Academy in New Hampshire, one of the top high school basketball programs in the country. He also won an ACC Player of the Year award at North Carolina State in 2014, averaging 24.9 points per game in his second and final year before being drafted 14th overall by Phoenix in 2014.
Brewster Academy coach Jason Smith, in his 18th year at a high school that produces Division 1 college and professional players nearly every year, said Warren’s offensive skills were at as high a level as anybody he had coached.
“Just a great nose for the ball, and being able to put it in the basket. That was what caught your attention. It came easily, and almost effortless,” Smith said about player averaging 18.4 points.
Though a player destined for big-time college basketball and the NBA, he actually played off the bench for Brewster. Not looking to get outside the system, Warren’s points came within the flow of the game, often on transition basket or rotation shots, not holding the ball too long or slowing down the offensive flow.
Much like his demeanor off the court, Warren’s game on the court can fly under the radar as well.
“You’d watch him and say, ‘He had a good game, probably 16 or 18 points,’ and then you’d look up and he’d have 30,” Smith said.
Now in his fourth year in Phoenix, Warren is often the player that can be seen diving to the floor for a loose ball, boxing out for a teammate to get a rebound and doing all the “little things” that help a team win.
Just 24, Warren is one of the most-tenured players on a young roster that has seen massive turnover recently. Though not incredibly vocal about it, he said his goal is to show his teammates how the players on a winning team perform.
“The biggest impact I try to have, I’m a lead-by-example type of guy, so playing hard, giving energy,” Warren said. “Other players see that, it’s contagious, and they start doing the same things I’m doing out there.”
More than just a non-traditional motivator, his scoring ability has translated into the NBA as well, where he is averaging 18.6 points per game for the Suns.
Though not a proficient three-point shooter, his game is a bit of a throwback in the current basketball landscape, with a high number of mid-range shots and free throws. Suns guard Troy Daniels said Warren’s game has made a positive impact on the rest of the players.
“He’s not really vocal on or off the court, but his work ethic speaks for itself,” Daniels said. “His demeanor on the court especially, we all respect and follow him just because at the end of the day he’s going to get a bucket, he’s going to go extra hard on defense, so we just try to follow him in that aspect.”
However, Warren is not satisfied with merely working on his game. On a team that has not made the playoffs since the 2009-10 season, Warren is expecting the team to make the leap to at least competing for the postseason soon.
“I know we have a young team but we can’t keep using that excuse every year, just being young. At some point we’ve just got to grow and get better,” he said.
For now, though, as the Suns are in what team staff has called a “rebuild,” Triano said he will be happy if Warren continues to be the quiet leader the team has come to appreciate.
“He’ll say things when he has to, but he’s just Tony Buckets, and that’s what he does,” he said.