It is always hard to grade guys who don't play very much. And despite the best hopes of the fans, and likely the front office, Coach Jeff Hornacek did not seem to think T.J. Warren was worth of consistent playing time early in the season.
Warren played 25 of his 40 total games played after February 8th. He also played 480 of his roughly 600 minutes during that time, or roughly 80% of his overall minutes.
I'm a firm believer in the idea that you cannot effectively judge players, particularly young players, when they aren't getting consistent minutes. As a result of Warrens unique situation, I think its fair to evaluate his play in two chunks: the first half, prior to February, where he was playing inconsistently and seeing regular assignments to Bakersfield; and the second half, when he began to play a more key role for the Suns.
The First Half - Inconsistency
The first half of the season, as regards Warren, can best be described with the word inconsistency. It wasn't just inconsistency of minutes, though that was certainly a problem. Warren himself was inconsistent. This inconsistency showed both in Warren's time with the main team, as well as in his 9 games with the Jam, which all came before February 8th.
With the Suns during this time, Warren was at times ugly to watch. His shot selection was poor (he shot just 45%), he found himself struggling at times keeping himself in the flow of the offense, as well as keeping with the pace of the opponent on defense.
There were glimpses of good things, too. In two blowout losses to Denver and the Thunder, Warren played significant minutes and put up respectable numbers. Against Denver, he had 11 points (5/9 shooting) and 2 rebounds, while against the Thunder he had 8 points, 3 assists and 2 rebounds on 4/9 shooting. Neither of these were awe-inspiring performances, but they did show that Warren could contribute offensively if given the opportunity.
Warren's performance with the Jam was better, but retained the inconsistency. For the season with the Jam, Warren averaged 27 points and 7 rebounds per game, on 54% shooting.
In 3 of his 9 games, however, Warren was able to contribute much less. In two of these games, Warren was forced to share the court with Archie Goodwin, and it quickly became apparent that the two players shared little chemistry. In the third, the Jam faced off against the eventual NBA D-League champion Santa Cruz Warriors. Warren was stifled that game by the defensive presence of Suns alumnus Taylor Griffin.
The first half of the season, then, saw Warren struggle. The second half would see Warren start to shine.
The Second Half - Emergence
Warren played in all but 5 of the Suns' games from February 8th (game 53) to the end of the season. During that stretch, Warren would average nearly 20 minutes a game, and show enough development that he managed to forego assignment to the Jam late in the season when the team was in the playoffs, a strategy that many teams (the Spurs, Warriors and others) pursued.
Warren's increased playing time came as the team re-adjusted to life post-Hydra and, given Hornacek's reluctance to play the rookie earlier in the season, many were expecting to see Warren continue to come along slowly. That was not to be the case.
Warren improved in nearly every category in the second half of the season: his shooting percentage jumped to nearly 55%, his rebounding rate increased dramatically (from 3.6 per 36, to 5.3 per 36), and his scoring rate increased as well. The only category in which Warren declined was three point shooting, where he saw reductions in both rate taken and percent made. More on this later.
More than just improve statistically, Warren finally looked comfortable on the court later in the season. In games against the Warriors, Thunder and Blazers late in the season, with clear playoff implications, Warren came alive. During that 3 game stretch, Warren averaged 16 points and 4 rebounds, and played very respectable defense against three teams known to oftentimes wear guys out.
All in all, then, Warren showed improvement in the second half of the season.
Player Grade - B
Warren didn't live up to the highest expectations - he wasn't able to come in and play consistently from day 1, and he struggled with some aspects of his game, particularly three point shooting, that had been points of emphasis before the season.
Nor did Warren fall below the lowest expectations - after his particularly non-prolific start to the season, there were concerns that he may have been a dud.
Warren grades out a little higher than he might have because of how well he closed out the season. In the off-season, he has clear areas for improvement: three point shooting, passing, and defense. Look for him to be working on those, and hopefully to showcase improvements in those areas come Summer League.