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Phoenix Suns NBA Draft Review: T.J. Warren brings finishing skills, diversity to Suns

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Allow me to add my thoughts on TJ Warren to the many others on this forum. I hope you enjoy it.

But first: props to DraftExpress.com for predicting that the Suns would select him at #14 in their Mock Draft. They saw it coming when a lot of folks did not.

In an earlier post, I wrote this about Warren:

One choice that has been floated for the Suns is TJ Warren (SF, 6'8", 6'9" wingspan) of NC State. Warren is one of the top scorers in the NCAA (25 ppg, 58% 2PT(!!), 26.7% 3PT, 69% FT, 3.2 OffRB,) but he has lots of red flags for NBA play. He doesn't have 3PT range (right now), he has limited one-on-one skills, he's a good, but not great athlete, and his ability to defend wing players is suspect. In some earlier mock drafts he was projected as a second round player, but his stock has been on the rise lately.

Warren intrigues me because he impacts the game in many of the ways that former Suns Cedric Ceballos did when he was with the team in the 90s.:

• both Ceballos and Warren were/are great at running and finishing fast breaks

• both are very good offensive rebounders

• both are very good at finishing around the basket

• both are great at moving without the ball

• both are so-so ball handlers (although Warren is a better ball handler than Ceballos)

• both are so-so outsider shooters at this early point in their careers

A primary difference between the two is that Ceballos was more athletic, while Warren is taller and stronger. Warren's half-court skills make him best suited for a team that employs a lot of passing and cutting in the offense {such as the Spurs, or a triangle team, or Chicago with Jokim Noah}; or a team with a PG who is good at hitting who at passing to teammates who move well without the ball {such as a Steve Nash or Jason Kidd; or Rajon Rondo or Ricky Rubio today}.

The thing is, the Suns don't fit in either of those categories right now. The Suns' PGs are great at the pick-and-roll and hitting spot-up shooters, but the Suns' offense otherwise doesn't have a lot of motion. I think that somebody like Warren, who depends on teammates getting him the ball to be effective as a half-court scorer, would be under-utilized in Phoenix.

Still, if Warren can develop a 3PT shot, his ability to run and score off the ball could make him an effective player for Phoenix. But I think he'd prosper more in another system.

Now that the Suns have actually drafted Warren, these are my thoughts on his possible impact:

(1) Warren's most Suns-ready skill is his transition game. Warren has a proven ability to run, handle, catch, and finish on the break. Consider the clips of his running game from his DraftExpress.com scouting report:

T.J. Warren 2014 Scouting Report (via DraftExpress)

As seen above, Warren doesn't just run downcourt, he practically gallops. He dribbles well enough in the open court that he can go coast to coast, and actually has some shimmy and slither in his handle that helps him get by defenders.

How many times last season did we see P.J. Tucker try to quickly bring the ball up court, only to get stopped or even fumble the play? To his credit, he mainly played within himself, and did not force things often. But Tucker was not a threat in transition. Warren is.

If the Suns' goal is to create a team that will lead the league in fast break points, Warren is a good building block. Coming off the bench, he can be a real weapon. I do think it will take him some time to adjust to the size and athleticism of NBA players, but he has the toolset to be a very good running SF.

(2) In the half court, Warren gives the Suns offensive diversity. The Suns don't have a frontcourt player who can move without the ball and score like Warren did in college. At the SF spot, Tucker is a defender and corner shooter who struggles finishing at the rim. Gerald Green is a very good shooter, but his handle is only OK; sometimes he has problems dribbling all the way to the rim, and he can have trouble finishing unless he can dunk the ball. (Green has said he will make ball-handling a focus of his summer work.) Marcus Morris is a shooting forward whose scoring game still needs work.

Warren is a 2PT scoring upgrade over all of those guys. Recollect that Warren shot 58%(!!!) on his 2PT shots. For a non-post up player, that is awesome. He has great hands, he can finish without dunking, he can score in a crowd, and he's not afraid of contact. Those skills give the Suns a whole new look at small forward.

> Warren has been compared to Antawan Jamison for his ability to make unorthodox shots, and that's a good comparison. Although I think Warren is a better ball handler and transition player.

A big question about Warren is, can he go ISO on NBA level SFs? His first step is OK, but he's behind Archie Goodwin in that aspect, at least. He's a good band handler in the open court, but in the half court, he's good not great (although I think he handles better than Gerald Green). Warren doesn't need the ball to be effective, but it remains to be seen how much he can do against NBA players.

(3) Warren is not a great outside shooter, but he has potential. He has a noticeable hitch in his outside shot, but he made 50% of his treys in his freshman year, I think.My feeling is he can develop into a decent open shooter, that is, he'll be good enough to make uncontested jump shots. It might take some time, though.

(4) Warren does have the size and skill to be a post-up threat against smaller players. One trick that teams used against the Suns in 2013-2014 was to put their best wing defenders on Bledsoe and Dragic, and put their weakest defender, such as a PG, on Tucker. Warren could feast off that.

(5) Warren's rebounding is a question mark. He was an above average offensive rebounder in college. But with the Suns, he might be away from the basket to make room for the guards to slash to the basket. I think his rebounding game might suffer a bit.

Also, Warren was not a great defensive rebounder in college. He was matched up with PFs a lot in college, so maybe he'll do a little better rebounding vs NBA SFs... maybe. But Warren is not an explosive leapers and he's not all that long. We'll see how he does, but my own expectations are low.

(6) Warren's defensive skills are another question mark. He has quick hands and gets steals, but he was certainly not a two-way player in college. Bottom line, we don't know how good he will be guarding SFs. I do not think he can guard PFs, and I think playing him at power forward is an experiment that is doomed to fail, if it is attempted.

(7) A few minor notes. Warren is a 70% shooter from the foul line, and that's OK, but it needs to go higher. Warren gets to to the line a lot - he went to the line 6.5 times a game, which is awesome for a wing. So he needs to get his FT average to 75% at least. In NC State's 2nd Round loss in the NCAAs, Warren scored 28 points, but he missed 8 of 14 foul shots. His team lost by 3 points in overtime. If he's a committed player, he'll work hard to make sure that kind of performance isn't repeated.

Also: playing off the bench with Tyler Ennis opens some possibilities. Ennis is a good passing guard, and Warren is very good at moving without the ball. They could make a potent scoring duo. I'm looking forward to Summer League.

(8) Overall: Warren is a good offensive player whose running ability might be big in the short term. His poor shooting ability makes him a less perfect compliment to the Suns' slashing guards, but he could be a nice frontcourt scorer off the bench. He is more NBA ready skill-wise and physically than Archie Goodwin was as a rookie, and it's not hard for me to imagine that Warren might get more minutes as a rookie than Goodwin did.

On the other hand, given how crowded the Suns' roster is, Warren might spend a lot of time in the D-League. This is especially true if Alex Len continues to come along slowly and the team feels the need to have another big man on the roster.

Due to his lack of athleticism, I doubt that Warren will be a superstar in this league, and you don't expect that at the bottom of the lottery. But he does have the potential to be an effective scorer, especially if he can develop an effective jump shot. On the right team, he could score 18-19 pts a game and shoot 48% or so, and those are very good numbers, close to All-Star numbers. We'll see.

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