With 1:48 left in the second quarter on Friday night, and down by one point to the Atlanta Hawks, Jeff Hornacek was forced to call a 20-second timeout with four seconds left on the shot clock. Eric Bledsoe bounced the ball in frustration, almost earning a technical foul from official Dan Crawford who stopped himself at the last moment.
What happened? Hawks point guard trapped Bledsoe at the top of the key. The Morris twins, confused by the play call, bumped into one another. Tucker continued to stand in the corner rather than come to Bledsoe's aid. Len stayed in his spot near the basket.
Bledsoe has the right to be frustrated. He is constantly surrounded by players who stand on the wings or in the corners and wait for a drive-and-kick rather than move without the ball.
Floor spacers play a very important role. If they didn't, there wouldn't have been so much controversy surrounding Channing Frye last season.
However, according to NBA.com/stats the Suns currently rank 25th in the NBA in cutting frequency. That is, the percentage of possessions on which a team gets a shot attempt off of a cut to the rim. The Milwaukee Bucks lead the league, with a frequency of 10.1%. The Suns sit at 6.4%, with just 383 cutting field-goal attempts to the Bucks' 566. The Detroit Pistons rank dead last with a frequency of 5.8%.
But T.J. Warren, the rookie small forward out of NC State with a knack for scoring and moving without the ball, is suddenly adding a new dimension to the team's offense.
Currently, the Suns are getting most of their cutting FGA from their big men. Alex Len, Brandan Wright and Markieff Morris account for 175 total attempts on cuts, and have shot a combined 94-175 (53.7%).
The small forwards are a different story. In 1,585 total minutes played, Marcus Morris has 24 attempts on cuts. In 1,870 minutes, P.J. Tucker has only 17 attempts.
But in a mere 295 minutes, Warren already has 19 cutting attempts, more than Tucker in about 1/7 the playing time.
Even better, Warren is shooting a phenomenal 17-19 on those attempts. That is 89.5% from the field, and 1.75 points per possession. Compared to players around the league, Warren is in the 99.4th percentile.
90% on cuts is, quite honestly, unsustainable. But the Suns arguably haven't had a great cutter on the wing since Shawn Marion, and Warren is suddenly bringing that style back.
Here is an interesting chart, comparing most of the key players on the team and what percent of their offense is comprised of cutting. Only players with enough attempts to qualify for the NBA.com filter were included.
It makes sense to see Wright and Len top that chart, as you will rarely see them shoot jumpers, post up or isolate on offense.
And even for Warren, it isn't necessarily "good" that he has an unusually high rate of cutting. For him to develop a better jumper and add the ability to spot up would only increase his value. But for now, the Suns have other shooters. Warren's skill set is unique to this roster, and that's where his value is going to come from.
Suddenly the Suns have the option to pair Warren, a great cutter, with a fantastic slasher in Bledsoe, a good post-up player and mid-range shooter in Markieff Morris, and a 40% three-point shooter in Knight. That's a lot of offensive versatility, hopefully enough that the team could generate some more ball movement and play efficiently even in a half court set, which we all know is not their greatest strength.
This is not me advocating for Warren to start over Tucker or Marcus Morris immediately. I personally do not think he's ready, nor do I think he will be ready for a while. I'm also not comparing Warren to Shawn Marion just because of their similar predilection for cutting. That would severely underrate Marion's contribution on defense and on the glass.
However, coming out of the draft Warren did draw some comparisons to former Sun Cedric Ceballos, and that comparison remains intriguing. Both Ceballos and Warren are known as good offensive rebounders and finishers, as well as smart players who know how to move without the ball. Remember, in his prime Ceballos once put up 22 points and 8 rebounds per game with the Lakers. Here are some highlights from his 50-point game.
For now, enjoy the ride and see what else T.J. "Rush Hour" Warren has in store for us to end the season.