LAS VEGAS — T.J. Warren was one of the nation’s most prolific scorers in college at North Carolina State, but when it came time for the draft there were doubts. He killed it from the midrange in college, but how exactly would that translate to an NBA that increasingly frowns on midrange jumpers?
Well, he can land on a team that just wants to run then get to the rim.
Warren got drafted by the Suns — a team that played at a top 10 pace last season and wants to play faster, something that carried over to Summer League in Las Vegas where the long and rangy team plays at a real pace.
Warren is thriving in that — he had 28 points on Tuesday night in a win over Philadelphia (another team that wants to run) and all of his buckets save one came right at the rim, most in transition.
“For me it’s just running the floor hard and having that knack to finish in transition…” Warren said, crediting his teammates for finding him. “It’s just finding my sweet spots, really.”
“He’s got (scoring) down, that midrange (jumper),” said Suns Summer League coach Mike Longabardi. “He’s got a good instinct for the ball, he got a couple rebounds. And he really does well in transition, we get the rebound… and advance it to him and he’s great.”
Through three games in Las Vegas Warren is averaging 21 points a game shooting 59 percent.
Not even five stitches over a puffy right eye could slow him. He only played seven minutes in the Suns second game in Las Vegas because of an inadvertent elbow to the eye.
“I think (the Bucks) Johnny O’Bryant came down and elbowed me, I had to get five stitches,” Warren said, still with a bandage over his right eye. “It’s kind of rough… I wanted to come back in (that game) but it wasn’t happening. It got really bad, I iced it all day yesterday, the day we had off, icing it more tonight….
“I got used to it. In the beginning it was a little tough getting used to it, but it became easier.”
His shooting was anything but icy.
“The thing (the Sixers) did was really pressure us and when they did he just attacked and it worked in our favor,” Longabardi said.
“I just got to get used to the offense, keep learning the sets,” Warren added. “The uptempo style really fits my game, just running really hard. Just got to build off this.”
It’s a good Summer League showing from Warren, the kind of thing that will get him some minutes in camp and the preseason. But he’s also got holes in his game.
He’s going to have to develop a three point shot. Right now he avoids it and is 0-of-3 in Summer League.
“I think his three ball will come, he’s just got to practice it,” Longabardi said.
In transition he’s also going to have to finish through contact — he did that in college, but these are men (often really big ones) in his way now.
“It’s kind of harder, I’m trying to figure it out,” Warren said of finishing through contact. “I college you could kind of finish through guys, at the next level it’s different. So you’ve got to be craftier, find ways to put it in the basket. I’m adjusting to it pretty well.”
But the biggest adjustment will be defense — he’s got to play it better to get on the court come the fall.
“(Defensively) That’s going to be an adjustment,” Longabardi said.
“It’s different a little bit,” Warren said of defense. “Just trying to get in position to stop guys. Help side defense is there.”
The bottom line is in the NBA if you can put the ball in the basket you’ll get your chances. Warren is proving in the desert this summer he can do just that. And the Suns can always use another guy who knows how to finish in transition.
“We knew what we were getting when we drafted him — a scorer,” Longabardi said.