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Realistic Expectations for Phoenix Suns' T.J. Warren This Season

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Realistic Expectations for Phoenix Suns' T.J. Warren This Season
Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

As difficult as it was for Twitter not to ruin Derek Jeter's final All-Star Game with Adam Wainwright's comments, it must be harder for Phoenix Suns fans to contain their excitement over T.J. Warren's summer league performances.

Two games. Fifty points combined. Nearly 58 percent shooting from the field. (He should have already played three but had to leave Sunday's game after seven minutes due to a cut above his right eye that required stitches.)

The 14th overall selection in the 2014 NBA draft looks every bit the scorer who averaged 24.9 points in his final season at North Carolina State. Which brings us to the first of several questions in determining how Warren will fare in his rookie season.

 

What have we learned from Warren's 2 summer league games?

As Bright Side of the Sun blogger Sreekar Jasthi points out, what happens in Las Vegas Summer League often stays in Las Vegas Summer League.

Look at some of the other top scorers:

The former McDonald’s All-American went from part-time starter for the Wolfpack as a freshman to the third leading scorer in the nation, ACC Player of the Year and second-team All-American his sophomore year.

Watching highlights from his first and second LVSL games with the Suns confirms the predraft scouting reports, like this one from ESPN.com's Amin Elhassan (subscription required):

[H]e brings elite size for a wing to the table. He's an excellent finisher around the rim, with a knack for completing through contact and fouls. He wants to get out in transition and often will leak prematurely to do so. Warren has a really nice in-between game of runners and floaters, which makes him almost impossible to guard at his size when he's hitting.

At 6'8", Warren can get his own shot regardless of how much space the defender gives. He has the ability to make a variety of looks and the instincts to put himself in the right place to get easy baskets.

Sam Vecenie of Upside & Motor broke down how Warren got to 22 points in his debut: 12 in transition, four on offensive putbacks and two each on a mid-range jumper, floater and free throws. Only one of his attempts came from outside 15 feet. If the upside of Warren's reputation proved true, then so did the downside.

One of the biggest knocks on Warren's game is his aversion to long-range shooting. He's a pure, old-school two-point scorer if there's ever been one at his size in recent years. It's certainly worth noting that Warren shot 58.0 percent on two-pointers last year and only 26.7 on threes last season.

 

What is Warren's role on the floor?

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Chad Ford and Kevin Pelton (same ESPN Insider piece) have both expressed concern that Warren may not have a traditional role in the NBA.

Ford: "He gets all of his shots in the midrange game on floaters or taking it to the basket. He's a throwback who uses great basketball IQ and angles to get his shot. While everyone loves watching him play, does it translate?"

Pelton:

Warren is a unique NBA prospect. His effectiveness was built on creating 2-point shots (his usage rate ranked seventh in the NCAA, per KenPom.com) while hitting them at an impressive 58.0 percent clip. That makes Warren a throwback to 1980s small forwards like Bernard King and Alex English. Can such a player thrive in the modern NBA? Unclear.

Given his limited shooting range (for now), Warren will function best as an opportunistic scorer. He's got some Corey and Ronnie Brewer (no relation) in him. A freak in transition and backdoor cutter in the half court—only with a much higher ceiling.

Unfortunately, Warren will likely go as far as his ability to run the pick-and-roll/pop will take him. And as of now his game doesn't translate well either as a screener or roll/pop man.

 

What are some good NBA comps?

Nati Harnik/Associated Press

Take a lap around predraft profiles of Warren and you'll find a wide range of NBA comparisons.

NBADraft.net's Sam Gallenberger: Caron Butler/Jarvis Hayes

Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman: Caron Butler

I'm going to ignore the Jarvis Hayes comp for now. No disrespect, but he's currently plying his trade in Italy, and there should only be one mid-aughts Wizards comp allowed per person. Must be high-low options.

Butler in and of himself can evoke a range of reactions depending on which part of his career you pinpoint. He was, like Warren, an instinctual, mid-range scorer who reached nearly 21 points per game at his peak. Butler also dropped back down to a third option quickly.

Bleacher Report's Daniel O'Brien: Trevor Ariza

This is half-right, because Trevor Ariza matches in size and athleticism. But the newly signed Houston Rocket wing has a reliable three-point shot that Warren isn't guaranteed to develop.

Paul Banks of the Washington Times and David Kay of the The Sports Bank (h/t WalterFootball.com): Michael Beasley

Though Michael Beasley has some size on Warren, and he never grew into his expectations, both guys came into the league as face-up players who hover close to the basket. Beasley can stretch the floor, when he manages to stay on it.

 

Where does Warren fit with the rest of the roster?

Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press

One fan brings up the most salient barrier to Warren's rookie success:

Only, he's got the rookie looped into the wrong crowd of players. It is possible coach Jeff Hornacek could employ a three-guard small lineup with Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe (if he re-signs) and newest Sun Isaiah Thomas, only further exacerbating the point.

But at his size, Warren projects as a 3-4 tweener, where there are still plenty of redundancies. In order to see the court he'll have to wrestle minutes away from Gerald Green, P.J. Tucker and the Morris twins. Aside from experience, all four guys possess a skill Warren lacks.

Should T.J. Warren get significant rotation minutes this season?

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The Twins have important three-point floor-stretching ability.

Green can jump out of the gym and spark big rallies on his own.

Tucker, while not flashy, can only be described as the Suns' heart and soul. And he has a shiny new contract that Phoenix will want him to earn.

With so many returning pieces from a wildly successful team that most predicted to compete for the top pick in the draft, Hornacek won't have the same incentive to give Warren and fellow rookie Tyler Ennis the same minutes as the Philadelphias and Orlandos of the league.

 

So what is a reasonable expectation for Warren's rookie year?

Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Given the same room to work that will be afforded to Jabari Parker or Julius Randle, I'd tell you to pencil Warren in on the Rookie of the Year ballot now.

The reality is that Phoenix has a ton of talent, and Warren may not even see a whole lot of the court in meaningful situations unless he blows Hornacek away in preseason. This might actually do him some good if he can put it in proper perspective.

Warren's game needs some tweaking for it to be NBA-ready. He would run the risk of fizzling out like a Michael Beasley if his shot were to come to soon.

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