First of all, let’s not jump to any conclusions. Especially when looking at a young Phoenix Suns team, any hot streaks or lucky breaks can look like real development. Blink once, and Alex Len has a jump shot. Blink again, and you see another air ball.
That being said, I give you T.J. Warren’s statistical line through five games:
.505 FG/.300 3P/.863 FT
Great stuff for a beleaguered young wing who lucked into a starting spot when P.J. Tucker had surgery over the summer. Great stuff for a guy who still gets played yards off in the half-court. Great stuff for a 23-year old.
How’s he doing it? Well, he’s finding creases in the motion offense Jay Triano has worked to install this summer. Owen wrote earlier this month about how players like C.J. McCollum and Allen Crabbe have benefitted from the space that the constant screening and movement affords them in Portland. However, he didn’t mention Warren once in that piece!
I assume that this isn’t disrespect, as much as it is a result of and understanding that Warren lacks a feared three-pointer at this juncture, and that there were questions surrounding his role heading into training camp. Since then however, T.J. has found aggressive ways to attack the space the defense gives him:
He has excelled in choosing the best spots for himself to be impactful. He’s taking advantage of height or physicality mismatches when they benefit him, driving past slower defenders, and generally overpowering opposing teams. Through the first week of the season, no team has been ready for T.J. Warren.
Every Sun is operating under a clear “get it and go” mantra passed down from Earl Watson and his staff. It’s possible no Sun has gotten more out of this style than Warren:
He’s been focused and aware running on the break, and has made intelligent decisions when Plan A falters. His ability to finish through contact is key; often in transition, players face the numerical dilemma of simply having too many defenders in front of them. For Warren, this problem is solved by physicality and shot-making grace.
On defense, Warren fights through screens forcefully, keeping a hand on his man and his eyes up at all times. He uses his hands intelligently, getting in the way of a dribble or pass when it’s within reach, but otherwise staying in his lane. He will forfeit size to some matchups (like Kevin Durant on Sunday), but he makes up for it with the strength and quickness that are present in his every basketball move.
It will be interesting to see as the season progresses if he can defend other players on the court outside of traditional wings. If he can switch successfully or even match up one-on-one with bigs or guards (or both), it would unlock a lot for the Suns.
On offense, though it has been fun to see him capitalize on the extra room given to him by defenses disrespecting his shot, T.J. will need to develop a consistent deep shot to truly live in the league as a volume scorer. The potential is there, but the skills aren’t yet rounded out.
During the October 25th edition of the Ringer NBA Show, Kevin O’Connor mentioned that Warren shot nearly 42% on spot-up threes last year. So far this year, he has made 3 of 9 such attempts. That’s something to look at as the season progresses.
Even considering the full package of ups and downs that a young player like T.J. Warren lives within, it’s safe to say no one expected this performance through the first four games. Even in riveting flashes throughout his first two seasons, keeping up the magnificence over multiple quarters or consecutive games was difficult. After a nice preseason and four great games, all eyes are on T.J. to see how he answers the expectations he’s now built for himself.