T.J. Warren is heading to Phoenix. The Suns selected the former North Carolina State star with the No. 14 selection in Thursday night's 2014 NBA draft, a move that should at the very least boost their bench scoring.
Warren, 20, averaged 24.9 points and 7.1 rebounds per game as a sophomore en route to winning the ACC Player of the Year award. He led the Wolfpack to a round of 64 appearance in the NCAA tournament, narrowly losing to fifth-seeded Saint Louis.
Projected as a late first-round pick, Warren forewent his last two years of eligibility to enter the draft. ESPN's Chad Ford ranked him 20th on his Big Board, while I had Warren checking in five spots later on my final outlook.
"He's a professional scorer," an assistant general manager told NBA.com's David Aldridge. "Not a great 3-point shooter, but he can make the midrange jumper, the floaters. And he's a good enough athlete that he's a capable defender."
While a talented player who scored buckets in a ton of ways in Raleigh, North Carolina, Warren makes for an interesting NBA projection. He was almost exclusively a stretch power forward in college. Only 4.9 percent of Warren's possessions were used out of the post last season, per Synergy Sports (subscription required), and he performed miserably in a limited sample.
That bodes well, as Warren will make the transition to small forward in the NBA. His ability to create buckets in transition and make off-ball cuts will be key as he attempts to work more without the ball. Warren is still a glaring minus as an outside shooter—he made 32.2 percent of his jump shots as a sophomore, per Synergy Sports—but his myriad other offensive skills should help mitigate spacing issues.
Teams will be able to cheat off Warren until he's more consistent from outside, though. Swing players who cannot stretch the floor are seeing less and less playing time in the spacing-obsessed NBA, so it wouldn't be a shock to see Warren spend some time in the D-League. Kevin Pelton of ESPN (subscription required) noted that Warren is a "throwback to 1980s small forwards like Bernard King and Alex English," which might be damning with faint praise in today's NBA.
Defense is also not a strong suit. Warren was mediocre in isolations during college—typically the best projection of one-on-one defense readily available. Like all young players, he'll have to take a giant leap in understanding team-defense concepts. Warren was often a beat or two slow providing help in college, which means he'll be three or four beats slow at first in the NBA.
That doesn't necessarily mean he'll be a glaring minus defensively. Just that he probably tops out somewhere around average and will need to improve his outside shooting to get off an NBA bench. Warren's lateral quickness and max vertical at the combine proved better than most expected. Worries about his athletic profile are largely unfounded.
TJ Warren with a 35.5" max vert. Better than expected. #NBACombine— Chad Ford (@chadfordinsider) May 16, 2014
"An all-around scorer as well as defending, rebounding, doing all the little stuff to make it hard for the coach to take me out," Warren told reporters of how he sees himself. "I'm willing to buy into the system. That's my mindset; just looking forward to what's happening next."
Warren was impressive enough at the combine to hold onto his mid-20s grade and should at the very least become a solid rotation player. Phoenix is going to have to work hard to get his shooting stroke down and have it be more consistent, but Warren's massive leap from his freshman to sophomore years proves there's some real scoring talent here.
For what teams typically get at pick No. 14, Warren could be a steal. Given all the elite talent in this class, though, it was equally hard to justify him going any higher. The Suns hope they found a perfect match.
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