Thirty-one. That’s the number of field goal attempts per game being left behind by Isaiah Thomas, Gerald Green and Marcus Morris. All three are no longer on the Phoenix Suns, which means that someone – most likely off the bench – is going to have a lot of shots available to them.
The favorite for those shots is second-year man T.J. Warren. Warren is coming off of a season of sporadic playing time. After playing 10+ minutes only nine times in the first four months of the season, Warren averaged 20.5 minutes per game in the last two months.
A high-volume scorer at North Carolina State in his sophomore season, Warren entered the NBA with a less ball-dominant way of scoring and a nose for the ball. His smart, instinctive movement on offense had him consistently cutting to the basket and grabbing offensive rebounds. He averaged 2.4 offensive rebounds per 36 minutes last season, the fourth best number by a perimeter player (SF, SG. PG) who came off the bench.
Warren’s 17-point night against the Minnesota Timberwolves in March was a complete display of this scoring ability around the rim.
Warren uses his soft touch around the basket to score at an extremely efficient rate. His 52.8 FG% was the second best shooting percentage by a perimeter player last season.
His shot chart that night didn’t vary much, but that’s 17 very easy points in 18 minutes.
That’s one way of going about scoring for Warren, and he can take the momentum of those types of baskets and just go to work, even in a crunch time situation against the eventual 2015 NBA champion Golden State Warriors.
The playing time and shots are going to be there for Warren in year two. The battle for him will be his ability to stay on the floor and cover up his weaknesses.
Warren’s lack of a three-point shot has a slight cover by his cuts to the basket, but that shouldn’t fully protect the spacing issues he presents on the floor. He only took 21 three-pointers last season and Suns fans shouldn’t expect a much higher amount this season.
Like many other perimeter players who struggle from deep, the resolution for Warren is corner threes. He’s made a couple of them in the summer league and preseason, but the best the Suns could hope for is him shooting below league average (31-33%).
That’s still going to be manageable for Warren though, because he will likely spend time on the floor with the likes of Mirza Teletovic, Devin Booker, Brandon Knight, and possibly even P.J. Tucker. There’s just enough shooters on the roster for Warren to have a great chance of success in the rotation. What’s going to be the most difficult thing for Warren to do is defend.
At 6-foot-8 and 230 pounds, the issue for Warren is not bulk. He needs to be able to defend on the perimeter and stay in front of his man. His old-school fashion of scoring the ball doesn’t require high-level athleticism, but he needs that to a certain extent on defense.
Despite that, Warren, at times, has shown the quick feet and hands we hear Jeff Hornacek talk about.
That’s Kyrie Irving Warren stays with and stuffs at the rim. That’s not something Warren will be able to do consistently, but he has shown that he has the tools to at least be competent on the defensive side of the ball. More often than not though, Warren struggled defensively as he was projected to coming out of college.
Warren presents a dilemma for Hornacek on defense. He’s a second-year player, and it’s rare for a player that young to be good enough both off and on the ball as a defender. It doesn’t help that three of his potential partners off the bench will likely be Teletovic, Archie Goodwin and Booker. Teletovic is a minus defender, Goodwin’s still far away from figuring it out on defense, and you can’t have high expectations for a rookie on defense.
Those issues are going to require Hornacek to get creative with his lineups and even after that, having to take some negatives on one end in order to make some positives on the other end.
With all that said on his defense, Warren is the Suns’ best offensive threat off the bench. With Archie Goodwin in no man’s land, Booker not even turning 19 until the end of the month, and Teletovic primarily being just a shooter, this is Warren’s bench in terms of scoring and he’s going to have a large chunk of those 31 shots to prove so.
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