“He’s got that unique skill of scoring. “ — Phoenix Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek on T.J. Warren
Of all the players expected to hear their name called on June 26, Warren, who averaged 24.9 points per game as a sophomore, just might be the best pure scorer.
His ability to score the basketball isn’t just unique, it’s elite. From floaters in the lane (made the second-most in the NCAA last season) to finding passes off of cuts to creating opportunities from the high post to finishing coast-to-coast on one-man fast breaks, Warren isn’t shy about finding his way onto the score sheet.
“It’d be hard not to be impressed,” Suns general manager Ryan McDonough said. “He really carried his team at times, you know they didn’t have a whole lot of scoring help, so he had to carry a big load for them. It was impressive not only that he scored but he did efficiently as well. He’s kind of a quiet kid, doesn’t say a whole lot, but once the games starts he kind of got a knack for putting the ball in the basket.”
Although he’s a predominantly a right-handed finisher, Warren also showed tremendous touch with the left hand during his two-year stint in the ACC, especially in transition situations.
In fact, last season, 18 percent of his offensive production came on transition buckets.
“Watching tape, watching some of his stuff, he kind of — I don’t know (is) methodical looking,” said Hornacek. “Because of that he knows the great positioning. When he makes a move and sees an opening, then he explodes. He had a couple finishes today when he got hacked pretty good and was still strong enough to finish it off.”
Warren strength is not limited to the offensive end, either.
Though his defense is spotty on the whole, his penchant for boarding is very apparent. The Durham, N.C. native finished seventh in his conference a year ago in boards per game (7.1) and had six performances with at least 10.
Outside of 15 feet, his offensive game is somewhat limited.
While he finished the 2013-14 campaign as a 52.5 percent shooter from the field, he was not nearly as accurate between the free throw line and three-point arc (26.7 percent).
When opposing coaches gameplanned to keep him out of the painted area, Warren’s offensive game was largely a mixed bag. He’s a capable shooter but not a sound one by any means. His feet are rarely set, the ball often times gets brought down way too low, his right elbow tends to jut out upon release and his head rarely stays in the zone for the entirety of the shot.
The mechanical flaws have resulted in plenty of lifeless jumpers and balls that barely clanged off the front of the rim. Combine that with his sometimes reckless shot selection and it’s easy to see how Warren could kill an offense just as easily as he could support one.
Although he managed to impress Hornacek during his pre-draft workout in Phoenix Thursday, Warren’s tape was quite troublesome when it came time to display his effort on defense.
There’s no room for defensive apathy at the next level — something Warren unfortunately illustrated more often than not during his brief time at NC State. While he measured just over 6-foot-8 with shoes on at the NBA Combine, there’s little to no guarantee he’s ready to guard either forward position at the next level. His desire to expend energy at both ends remains to be seen.
Warren’s equipped with the physical tools to get the job done, but whether he wants to put it all together remains an entirely different story.
At the other end of the court, he’s not a finished product, either. While his reputation as a scorer was well-earned with the Wolfpack, Warren has not exactly made himself into all-around offensive force.
Part of that can be attributed to his spotty mechanics and the other part has to do with his decision-making skills, or lack thereof.
Both need to be improve drastically or it’s a safe bet he’ll be figured out rather quickly.
How he would fit with the Suns
Should the Suns lose P.J. Tucker in free agency, Warren would not be the ideal candidate to fill his role. Rodney Hood would seemingly be a better fit, because the Duke product at least showed flashes of being a very capable two-way player. However if Tucker remains in the Valley, Warren makes for a nice offensive weapon off an already-deep bench.
With Phoenix likely taking a scoring two or three with the No. 14 and/or No. 18 selections, Warren finds himself among the second-tier prospects along with the likes of James Young, Jerami Grant, Kyle Anderson and Zack LaVine.
Which means if Nik Staukas or Gary Harris is still on the board at No. 14, the Suns would wise to take either player over the reigning ACC scoring champ. Warren, however, could still be in play with the Suns four picks later. He’s a bit of a reach before that point.