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McDonough: T.J. Warren has been the Suns’ best two-way player

Phoenix Suns' T.J. Warren, left, scores as he gets past San Antonio Spurs' Davis Bertans (42) during the second half of an NBA preseason basketball game Monday, Oct. 3, 2016, in Phoenix. The Suns won 91-86. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

LISTEN: Ryan McDonough, Suns' General Manager

Erratic play has maybe clouded the Phoenix Suns’ minor improvements on the defensive end.

The Phoenix Suns went cold in the fourth quarter and saw a close game snowball on them two games ago against the visiting Minnesota Timberwolves. Two days later, they fell behind by 20 points at halftime and rallied before falling short in a 120-114 loss to the Denver Nuggets.

But in the past five games, the defense has taken steps forward against sub-standard competition.

Still, the Suns have gone 1-4 in that time. The offense has ranked fifth-worst in the league by scoring 96 points per 100 possessions. As Devin Booker’s shooting has sank below his rookie averages and the perimeter defense has struggled, the absence of forward T.J. Warren due to an unspecified head injury has become most clear.

“He’s been probably our most consistent two-way player and our best scorer in terms of efficiency, and just being able to get a bucket to stop an opposing run or to start a run of our own in the halfcourt,” Suns general manager Ryan McDonough said on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM’s Burns and Gambo.

Phoenix sees Warren’s return in view. McDonough hopes Warren can begin doing cardio and on-the-court workouts within the next week.

The team has not commented on the specifics of Warren’s head injury since he left after playing nine minutes against the Indiana Pacers on Nov. 18.

However, the flickering evidence of the team’s defensive improvements should be promising combined with the return of, arguably, their best perimeter stopper. Surprisingly, Warren’s improvements on the defensive end put him in that conversation.

“He’s up there among the league-leaders in terms of deflections and steals,” McDonough said of Warren, who is averaging 1.9 steals per game, a top-10 mark in the NBA. “We want to see how our team looks when we have everybody (healthy).”

Over the last five games, Phoenix has held five sub-.500 teams to 102 points per 100 possessions, a top-10 number in the NBA since Nov. 19. That’s four points better than the Suns’ defensive rating heading into this most recent five-game stretch.

But offensively, the numbers have fallen off from 102 points per 100 possessions to the aforementioned 96 since Warren was sidelined.

Warren, after wall, is averaging 17.7 points while shooting 46 percent overall and 31 percent from three. He’s hitting a career-best 82 percent from the foul stripe as well.

“(When) we don’t have him, it puts a lot of pressure on all of our offense with Eric (Bledsoe) and Devin in particular,” McDonough said.

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