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In an increased role, T.J. Warren is showing the rare breed of scorer he truly is

After the departure of Eric Bledsoe, T.J. Warren has slid into a primary role alongside Devin Booker seamlessly 15 games in.

NBA: Utah Jazz at Phoenix Suns Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

T.J. Warren’s game makes many want to turn back the clock prior to the new millennium. Whether it is his mid-range prowess or a pure lack of an outside shot, Warren makes many NBA fans flashback to the glory days and for good reason.

Stick Warren into the 1980’s or 1990’s and see him thrive alongside other dominant scorers from 18-feet in.

However, in 2017, it doesn’t even matter because Warren is still getting his shots off and doing so at an efficient clip while sliding firmly into the No. 2 role in Phoenix’s offense alongside Devin Booker.

Through Warren’s first three seasons with the Suns, he had to encounter multiple injuries alongside a role where he could not rise anywhere really above the third option.

With Eric Bledsoe and Booker already a tandem in the backcourt, Warren was relegated to being a cutter who found his spots off their spacing. In his third year, we saw Warren start to take the next step forward in his overall development before a mysterious head injury ended his career year prematurely. (We still haven’t found out the exact details of his head injury from the team, by the way.)

Finally moving into a larger role following the trade of P.J. Tucker in February, Warren was able to show off his unique skill set but it was short-lived. Warren went on to average 17.5 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. The numbers were there, albeit in a small sample size long-term.

Then, this past draft, Phoenix selected Josh Jackson, a 20-year-old wing with elite two-way potential. Yet another roadblock for Warren to finally showcase himself as the second option? No, not even close.

Many, including myself, immediately wrote Warren off as a castoff of #TheTimeline with Jackson’s inclusion but I’ve definitely been eating crow with his performances since.

At Media Day, I spoke to general manager Ryan McDonough off to the side of his availability he had just wrapped up and asked him a simple question: Outside of Booker, the face of the franchise, who is someone being underrated that is in line to break out?

Without hesitation, McDonough threw me a quick smirk and started speaking glowingly on how Warren has looked to him in summer workouts. McDonough said Warren had built off of his strong second half (18 and 8 on 53-percent shooting his final 18 played) and his scoring and rebounding would continue at these clips if all went to plan.

Well, it definitely has so far.

When taking a deep dive into what numbers Warren has put up through his first 18 games and even when you take out Bledsoe (15 total without), it’s easy to see that McDonough made the right choice inking him to his 4-year, $50 million extension in late September that runs through 2022.

By the way, what a steal that contract is looking like, right? He will only be making an average of $12.5 million per year, and when seeing who Warren has put himself alongside thus far, this should be a great development for Phoenix’s front office to relish in.

First off, I wanted to show how much a fulcrum Warren has become to the Suns night-in, night out success this year. In wins, Warren’s rounded averages are 24 points and 8 rebounds while in losses it drops down significantly to 15 and 5. Meanwhile, Booker’s numbers nearly maintain.

This truly shows how significant Warren’s output has been this to this roster’s success. If he is unable to find his rhythm early, it usually spells doom for the Suns.

Another number to look at when seeing how Warren has looked compared to other wings, he is one of eight players around the league averaging 18+ points per game on over 50-percent shooting. The other names? LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, Ben Simmons, Anthony Davis, Joel Embiid, and Karl-Anthony Towns.

Post-Bledsoe, Warren is averaging 19.1 points and 6.1 rebounds on 51.9-percent which is ranked 9th total as far as efficiency goes. That scratches off Simmons if you are just looking over their last 15, which would rank Warren behind the two best forwards in the world and one who looks well on his way to leading this new wave of cyborg-like modern wings.

When scouring through the NBA stats database, I also stumbled upon a number that really caught me off guard.

When McDonough told me in September about Warren being one of the better finishers in the restricted area plus mid-range in this league, he wasn’t kidding.

Just take a look at what Warren has already done in less than 20 games, which puts him all by his lonesome. The former North Carolina State Wolfpack star is the only one who has taken at least six attempts from the restricted area and four from mid-range per game who are shooting at or above 49-percent in each.

There are only three other players in the entire league who meet near that criteria and they are LeBron, Giannis, and surprisingly Atlanta’s point guard Dennis Schroeder. Warren has shot 49.4-percent from the mid while he is converting 64.8-percent from inside.

In totality league-wide for all wings, Warren ranks 9th (LeBron, Andrew Wiggins, Giannis, Simmons, Jonathon Simmons, Durant, Kyle Kuzma, and Paul George) from inside the restricted area on such criteria and 4th (Evan Fournier, Durant, Otto Porter, and DeMar DeRozan) from mid-range.

Also, this puts Warren only alongside Durant as far as forwards who have attempted 50-plus for both zones and, really, it shows just how much more aggressive he has been on the offensive end for the now 24-year-old.

Outside of Warren making the natural progression to becoming a consistent scoring threat from multiple zones on the floor, he has also started to take that jump we began to see as a rebounder once Tucker left for Toronto.

Since McDonough sent Bledsoe home following his “I Don’t wanna be here” tweet after their 0-3 start prior to trading him, Warren is the only wing right now averaging two or more offensive rebounds per game. With Warren collecting 30 offensive boards his last 15, he’s keeping pace with elite rebounding bigs at the moment. He ranks only behind LaMarcus Aldridge, Nikola Jokic, Kevin Love, and Towns.

We have seen Warren become a lot more aggressive scoring the ball, but crashing the boards to get it back like he has been doing is a step in the right direction for his all-around game.

What is the ceiling for Warren moving forward? It’s a question I’m starting to really ponder because if he is able to avoid the injury bug, we could be in line for the career year two-plus seasons in the making.

The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor recently pointed out that Warren could be a borderline star if he developed a consistent outside shot, and I agree with his sentiment. The Suns’ No. 14 pick in the 2014 draft is already a top-notch two-level scorer placing himself alongside current and future perennial All-Stars.

Is that where I see Warren? I do if he can ever get that shot to go from beyond the arc.

However, names like Giannis and Simmons are dominating without a jumper so is Warren the third young wing that will steadily stay alongside their production in that sense?

It’s very plausible, and alongside Booker’s hot start, Phoenix looks like it hit not only a home run with the Warren extension but a walk-off grand slam. Now, it’s all about patience because however fast their dynamic wing duo (trio if Jackson develops along the path I expect) turns into elite will be when the Suns flipped the script as far as wins and losses go.

I think those scripts are already in the process of being flipped because it’s time for others nationally to find who exactly T.J. Warren is and how he could become a top 10 wing in the NBA sooner than we all expected.

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