T.J. Warren ‘felt like a rookie again’ in Suns preseason opener against Spurs
PHOENIX – More than eight months have passed since Phoenix Suns small forward T.J. Warren last played in an NBA game.
His wait finally ended Monday.
Warren took the court and played 24 minutes in the Suns preseason opener, a 91-86 win over the San Antonio Spurs in front of 8,076 at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
Warren totaled eight points on 4-of-9 shooting. He missed both of his 3-point attempts.
Warren added two rebounds, one assist and turned the ball over once in his first action since he sustained a right foot fracture in late January. The injury ultimately required surgery on Feb. 16, costing Warren the final 34 games last season.
“It felt like it was my first NBA game. It just felt like I was a rookie again. I was away for so long, but I was just glad to get it out of the way,” he said. “Even though it was a preseason game, still it felt like a regular season game to me just out there competing with my teammates. It was fun.”
Warren’s night began with a 16-foot baseline pull-up jumper and ended with an emphatic one-handed dunk over rookie Ryan Arcidiacono. In between, Warren had a put-back lay-up and reverse lay-up.
Defensively, he was matched up against Kawhi Leonard, one of the few Spurs’ stars to play on Monday.
“First game off an injury to match up with an elite player like that, so it was good to compete with him. Felt like I did a better job on him in the second half,” said Warren, who after halftime held Leonard scoreless in his five minutes on the floor.
Leonard was the Spurs’ leading scorer with 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting, including 3-of-5 from the 3-point line.
Head coach Earl Watson named Warren a starter earlier in the day. He ran with a lineup of Eric Bledsoe, Devin Booker, Jared Dudley and Tyson Chandler.
Warren’s spot with the first unit may only be temporary, however. P.J. Tucker is expected to be back following September back surgery not too long after the season opener. Watson called it a “tough decision” when Tucker returns.
“This opportunity just came, and I just got to take advantage of it and just run with it,” Warren said, referring to his starting role. “Hopefully, it lasts my whole career, that’s the plan.”
— Bledsoe, too, ended an extended court absence with his appearance Monday. Playing for the first time since a season-ending knee injury in December, Bledsoe missed five of his six shot attempts and finished with three points to go along with four rebounds, four assists, three steals and one turnover in 18 minutes.
— Dragan Bender, who will back up Warren, at least until Tucker is healthy, did not score in 24 minutes, going 0-for-4 with four rebounds, one assist and a blocked shot. He turned it over twice and committed four fouls. It’s his versatility to play multiple positions, however, that has the Suns most excited about their first-round draft pick.
“Dragan can play at 3, 4 and 5. He did an amazing job playing the 5 in the scrimmage,” Watson said of Bender’s play in Flagstaff over the weekend. “He’s a basketball player, but we all know in order to complement each other he has to move to the 3 and Marquese (Chriss) will have to play the 4 and the younger big, which is Alex Len, is a great frontline. So we all know that. And T.J. Warren, you mix him into that, it’s powerful as well. So, the future is very bright, and I think Dragan likes the perimeter instead of getting bumped around a lot, for now.”
— Some other notable Suns performances from preseason game No.1: Booker scored a game-high 19 points, shooting 5-of-13; Chandler nearly had a double-double (10 points and eight rebounds); and Dudley showed off his athletic hands with three steals.
Off the bench, Chriss and Alan Williams paced the way with 10 points. Williams added seven rebounds and three blocked shots. Brandon Knight shot 3-of-7 for eight points off the bench.
— The Suns beat a Spurs team that was missing six rotation players. LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol, Manu Ginobili, Danny Green, Patty Mills and Tony Parker did not make the trip to Phoenix.