If prospects were drafted based on college production, T.J. Warren just might be a top-three pick.
Unfortunately for Warren, it doen't work that way—but did you see what this guy did the last two months of the season? I'll recap:
It started when he dropped 34 points on Wake Forest on February 11. From there, he went for 31 against Virginia Tech, 36 against North Carolina, 41 against Pittsburgh, 42 against Boston College, 28 in a win over Syracuse and 25 in an opening-round NCAA tournament win over Xavier.
And except for the Syracuse game, Warren finished above 50 percent shooting in each.
The last time he didn't notch 20 points in a game: January 11. The guy has been a machine over the last half of the year. And at 6'8", he's got a big yet mobile body that can really get up and down the floor.
Based on his physical attributes and consistent high-volume production against legitimate ACC competition, you'd think NBA teams would be lining up at the door.
But not everyone is sold on Warren's outlook as a pro.
There are some questions and concerns regarding how well his game will translate. The significance of them really depends on what you value as an evaluator.
It's not actually one glaring red flag, but a few smaller ones that might spell trouble if blended together. On the other hand, if it turns out these weaknesses and deficiencies are simply silly, meaningless little details, we could be talking about one serious offensive weapon at the next level.
Warren isn't a showtime athlete or a high-flyer. He plays mostly under the rim, and he's forced to rely on hitting some pretty difficult shots throughout a game. To his credit, he converts them, but with short arms (6'9.5" wingspan) and a lack of explosiveness, some fear the shots he's getting off in college won't be there in the pros.
Another hole in Warren's game is his shooting range. He's money in the mid-range—not so much from deep.
Warren shot just 31-of-116 from downtown this season, or 26.7 percent, a frightening number.
He made 63 field goals over his last six games, and none of them were threes. How many scoring small forwards in the NBA can you name that don't shoot the three?
Defensively, Warren doesn't exactly project as a plus-defender, so he'll need to milk his offensive game for everything it's got. And whether you agree with it or not, it's understandable why a scout might not love Warren's outlook as a small forward who's forced to play inside the arc with average athleticism and short arms.
But it's also understandable why a scout might not care about these holes.
Why? Because Warren just knows how to get buckets. It doesn't seem to matter who he's playing, who he's playing with, the system he's in or the tempo of the game. There isn't one strength or go-to skill he constantly relies on. Warren adapts and reacts to what the defense gives and takes.
In the half court, Warren has that uncanny ability to rise and fire over his man when he least expects it.
Pull-ups, spot-ups, turn-arounds, floaters, runners, finishes in transition—name a type of shot and Warren has it in his arsenal. He's essentially in scoring position whenever he gets a touch. If there's room to go up with it, chances are Warren is going to strike, given his extensive shot-making range and repertoire as a scorer.
While he can create offense with the ball, he's also a threat to score without it via cuts, slashes and flashes. He's not a guy who needs his number called. Warren is one of those players who seems like he's having a quiet game until you look down at the box score and notice he's got 20 shady points.
“He’s one of the best I’ve ever had,” N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried told Justin Hite of the Rocky Mount Telegram. “I’ve had some good players play for me. He (has) got a knack to score in such a variety of ways. I think it’s unique."
His offensive instincts are phenomenal—and you can't measure instincts with a ruler or timer. Sometimes, instincts can make up for a few inches or a slight lack of burst.
Finishing at the rim is a stat usually tied to athleticism—the better athletes typically shoot a better percentage, given they play higher above the rim, where it's easier to finish on the way down over traffic than on the way up through it. But Warren managed to shoot an impressive 75.9 percent at the rim, per Hoop-Math, despite lacking that trampoline bounce of some of the other highly decorated prospects. It's just another reflection of Warren's feel for the game offensively.
He averaged over 24 points a game this season on a ridiculous 52.5 percent shooting. Only four times all year did Warren fail to score 20 points in a game.
But there have been plenty of prospects who've dominated the college scene and then stunk it up in the pros after finding out their games just don't translate.
I'm not saying Warren is one of them, but he's a candidate, given his unorthodox style of play and questionable physical tools.
If the transition process is a clean one and Warren can play his game without needing to make any major adjustments, he might be the steal of the draft, assuming he doesn't go in the first half of the lottery.
But if it turns out the shots he's getting off now won't be available against longer, more explosive athletes, and his three-point shot never develops, Warren could have trouble making a significant impact as a one-way offensive player.
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