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What T.J. Warren brings to his Suns homecoming

The veteran wing spent the first five years of his career in Phoenix...could he help deliver a title in what will probably brief return?

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Phoenix Suns v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

T.J. Warren is back, fellow Phoenix Suns fans.

An afterthought in a late night trade deadline blockbuster that rocked the NBA, “Tony Buckets” is saying goodbye to Brooklyn and coming back to where his NBA career began almost nine years ago.

T.J. Warren was actually a fairly polarizing figure among Suns fans in his first go-around in the Valley. While most fans recognized his ability to put the ball in the bucket, he often drew criticism for his lack of playmaking ability (he averaged about 1 assist per game in 28 minutes as a Sun), questionable defense, and lack of a developed long-range game.

T.J. was a bit of a dinosaur, in many eyes, a wing more at home in the 1980s NBA than the 2010s, where 6’8 220 pound players should be secondary playmakers, long range snipers, lockdown defenders, or even all of those things. Warren was none of those things. He seemed to suddenly find his three point shot in his final year in Phoenix, out of nowhere shooting 43% from deep and hitting 77 triples in only 43 games played when his previous high had been 28 made threes in 47 games.

But he was often hurt, never managing to surpass 66 games played in his five seasons in the Valley, and twice failing to suit up even 50 times.

Warren also had the misfortune of playing for the Suns during the “solar eclipse” decade. Not a single Suns team for which he played reached the 40 win mark, and so when he was traded to the Indiana Pacers for cash in a three team deal in the July 2019 there wasn’t the sort of collective mourning we’re now witnessing for the loss of Mikal Bridges.

But who is T.J. Warren now?

Well...he’s not the guy who averaged 20 points on 61% true shooting for the Pacers in the 2019/2020 campaign, capped off with a brilliant performance in the Florida COVID bubble.

He missed almost two years of basketball after suffering a stress fracture in his foot and having to undergo a lengthy rehab. Now 29 years old, T.J. has been playing a bench role for the Nets and sitting out a few games seemingly strategically with minor injuries a couple of weeks ago.

On a possessions-adjusted basis, Warren is still a fairly prolific scorer, averaging just under 25 points per 100 possessions.

And although he’s shooting just 33% from downtown this season, he has managed to maintain a respectable 58% TS figure by finishing very well at the rim and shooting over 50% in his midrange game.

The Suns just saw him the other night, of course, a game in which Warren scored 17 points on 6/10 shooting in about 22 minutes played. Check out his highlights if you need the quick refresher.

If you watched that contest, you got a pretty good idea of what contemporary T.J. Warren’s game now mostly consists of. He will only rarely try to take the ball all the way to the cup these days, favoring a couple of steps followed by the pull-up jumper when he receives the ball on the perimeter. He’s also a willing catch and shoot participant, despite his relative lack of success from downtown this season. He also maintains his wily array of moves when he gets the ball in the paint, and he’s able to hit some difficult shots against tough defenders in those situations.

It’s unclear for the moment what role Warren will play for the Suns. He could slot in as the starting power forward, but the Suns may prefer to keep him as a scoring engine off the bench in favor of a better defender in the starting lineup. The Suns don’t have a really well-established bench scorer at this moment, so that could be the most natural role for Warren, especially given his propensity for injury and the fact that he has only reached the 30 minutes played mark a single time this season.

Either way, Warren’s one-year $2.6 million deal is expiring, so this stretch run is quite likely the extent of the reunion we’ll get. But if it ends like we all hope it will, with the Suns winning their first-ever NBA championship, T.J. Warren will have a special place in Suns history.

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