Recently, ESPN ranked the best sophomores in the NBA in terms of their future NBA potential but did not include the Phoenix Suns T.J. Warren in that list.
Warren was drafted 14th in the 2014 Draft and has performed very well for the Suns. To read that article, you'd think that compared to other NBA sophomores he hasn't performed that well.
To be sure, Warren has talent. His talent is centered almost primarily in his ability to score and not turn the ball over. He's nowhere near highly productive in any other measured area. His rebound rate, assist rate, steal rate and block rate are all very low among his draft class.
The ESPN gurus took a stab at predicting the future of the 2014 Draft class this week, and Warren didn't make the cut of either writer's Top 10. Those who made it are Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Clint Capela, Zach LaVine, Elfrid Payton, Marcus Smart, Dante Exum, Jusuf Nurkic, Aaron Gordon, Nerlens Noel and Nikola Mirotic. All are good players and potentially better than Warren as pros, though I expect you'd argue some of them are unlikely to reach their ceilings.
Warren's ultimate NBA ceiling might be lower than some of those listed and drafted ahead of him, but his likelihood to reach that ceiling and stay there for a significant portion of his NBA career is quite high.
Let's take a look.
The whole convoluted definition is here, for basketball-reference.com, but the upshot is that players are rated based on their production relative to the rest of the league and the rest of their team, and their team's performance compared to the rest of the league.
In total, a team with 39 wins (like the Suns last year) had roughly 39 total Win Shares spread among the roster players. T.J. Warren is being credited with 3.3 of the Suns 51 wins over the past 117 games that Warren's been on the roster.
A couple of quick contextual takeaways from that:
- The number seems quite low. Warren ranks only 8th on the Suns in Win Shares over the same time period (Bledsoe is #1)
- You can guess that players on winning teams get more Win Shares than those on losing teams. A rotation player for a middling team will be credited with more Win Shares than a rotation player on a losing team.
Armed with that knowledge, you might think Win Shares is a flawed stat, and you'd be right. Someone like Andrew Wiggins (3.3 Win Shares, like Warren) will get downgraded despite his stellar play, while someone like Marcus Smart (3.3) will get more credit than he should. Smart has played half the minutes of Wiggins, but has the same Win Shares.
Covering all players' first two NBA seasons (well, 1 1/3 seasons anyway), Warren is 5th in Win Shares, 5th in Win Shares per 48 minutes, 3rd in offensive Win Shares and 15th in defensive win shares.
Player Efficiency Rating
This stat, developed years ago by ESPN's John Hollinger, rates a player's impact by applying a formula that middles out at 15. The design is to give credit for positive stats and take points away for negative stats. You can see basketball-reference.com's formula here.
It's easy to understandthe outcome: if the player's PER is above 15, he's offensively better than the average NBA player, no matter what experience level they have. If he's below 15, you're better off with someone else getting those minutes.
This stat is also flawed, because it doesn't account for role or minutes played. Hakim Warrick, for example, always rated above average on PER but was overall a net drain on team results.
But still, it's a measure. By this measure, T.J. Warren is 5th among players drafted in 2014. If you take out bit players (Jarnell Stokes has played a total of 130 minutes in 1.3 seasons), Warren climbs even higher.
But this is where the stat's flaws show up: those rated ahead of Warren in PER are Nikola Jokic, Clint Capela, Jarnell Stokes and Dwight Powell. Jokic and Capela are exciting players, but still developing. Stokes and Powell are bit players.
Of course, the raw stats are the easiest to find. And here is where Warren suffers because he didn't play a huge role on his team as a rookie.
Warren's rank among his draft class in raw stats are:
- 13th in games played, and 14th in minutes played
- 8th in FG attempts, but only 21st in three-point attempts
- He's 15th to 20th in many other areas
- But, he's 7th in total points, 5th in FG%, 4th in Effective FG% and 3rd in True Shooting%
Again, offensively he's a great scorer who's a net positive there. But he's not flashy, he doesn't dunk like crazy and his personality is even less exciting than his rebounding totals.
Warren might just end up as one of the best players from his draft class, but there's good reason that he's not seen as one of the best right now. He did not play a huge role on a bad team last year, and even if he did he's just not flashy enough to get the headlines.
This year, he's playing great basketball as has a big role, but even now there are a lot of good players playing well from that draft class. This year, Warren is Top-6 in PER, Win Shares (second), shooting percentages, and points. He's #1 in Offensive Win Shares.
But he still might not get recognized as one of the best from his 2014 Draft class.
I leave you with the definitive T.J. Warren, where he scored a career high 29 points against the Thunder on New Year's Eve in ways only Warren could score.