Phoenix found itself another scorer in T.J. Warren

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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.

Kevin Durant gets into Twitter debate with reporter over White House comments

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Kevin Durant became the latest Warrior — joining Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala, and Shaun Livingston, that we know of — to say he would not visit President Donald Trump’s White House as NBA champion. Which is all kind of moot because it’s unlikely the White House invites them and outspoken Trump critic/Warriors coach Steve Kerr and his players any way. (The White House’s biggest concern should be that Kerr accepts the invitation and uses that platform to challenge the president’s policies and style in front of him.)

Durant’s comments led to plenty of talk on sports talk radio and around the sports world online about whether a player or team should decline an invitation from the president. It’s not a new debate, Tom Brady denied that politics is why he didn’t visit Barack Obama’s White House (although I’m not sure many believed him), but KD’s on a big stage now so it became a talking point.

Former ESPN reporter Britt McHenry questioned a player not visiting the White House, and Durant responded, leading to a little Twitter back-and-forth.

Durant had previously Tweeted in response “by doing the opposite, I am inspiring more people” but that Tweet was deleted.

There is no one correct way to protest a person/policy/action, McHenry may see things differently, but Durant has chosen to stay away. That’s valid — traditionally these “champions to the White House” things are tedious photo ops with a few bad jokes thrown in. Having a hoops fan/player in Obama in the White House made the NBA visits more entertaining the past eight years, there was some trash talk, but still, they are largely just a public relations moment. If KD doesn’t want to play the PR game with Trump, that’s a legitimate response.

This has all been a tempest in a teapot. Until/unless the White House actually invites the Warriors to come, it’s all kind of moot.

Dwight Howard on Hornets’ coach Clifford: “It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you”

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Dwight Howard‘s game is much better than his reputation among fans.

He’s not the Defensive Player of the Year/All-NBA/MVP candidate level player he was back in Orlando, but Howard is still one of the best rebounders in the game, he’s strong defensively, and he’s an efficient scorer inside. He’s a quality center, if he plays within himself and is used well. His perception as a guy who does not take the game seriously and held back Houston and Atlanta in recent years has validity (he plays better in pick-and-roll than on the move, but wants the ball in the post), but the idea he is trash is flat-out wrong. He’s still good.

Howard wants to change his reputation, rewrite the final chapters of his career, and told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN that Steve Clifford’s Charlotte Hornets are the place that is going to happen.

“The other places I was, the coaches didn’t really know who I am,” Howard told ESPN. “I think that they had perception of me and ran with it. Cliff knows my game. He knows all the things that I can do. I’m very determined to get back to the top. It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you. They aren’t just saying it; they believe it. It really just pushed me to the limit in workouts: running, training, everything. I want to do more.

“In Orlando, I was getting 13-15 shots a game. Last season, in Atlanta, it was six shot attempts. It looks like I’m not involved in the game. And if I miss a shot, it sticks out because I am not getting very many of them. But I think it’s all opportunity, the system. I haven’t had a system where I can be who I am since I was in Orlando.”

Howard averaged 8.3 field goal attempts per game in Atlanta, which is about five a game below his peak. Last season 75 percent of Howard’s shots came within three feet of the rim — is is not there to space the floor, however, he can still move fairly well off the roll and is a good passer for a big.

Last season, 28 percent of Howard’s possessions came on post ups, and he averaged a pedestrian 0.84 points per possession on those. On the 21 percent of shots he got on a cut, he averaged a very good 1.36 PPP. When he got the ball back as a roll man (again on the move), it was 1.18 PPP. The challenge long has been Howard is better on the move but doesn’t feel involved unless he gets post touches, and if he doesn’t feel involved and engaged he’s not the same player.

Maybe Clifford can make this all work with some older plays where Howard feels comfortable.

Charlotte, with Howard in the paint and on the boards, should get back to being a top 10 NBA defensive team, not the middle of the pack as they were last season. Clifford is better than that as a coach, and Howard is an upgrade in the paint (on both ends). Charlotte should be a playoff team again in the East.

But it all will come back to Howard. Fair or not. And Wojnarowski is right, this is Howard’s last best chance to write the ending he wants to his career.

Friday afternoon fun: Watch James Harden’s 10 best plays from last season

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James Harden had a historic season in Houston.

Since it’s Friday afternoon and your sports viewing options consist of watching guys about to be cut from NFL rosters try to impress, why not check out Harden’s best plays from last season. It’s worth a couple minutes of your time.

Mavericks sign Jeff Withey to one-year contract

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Jeff Withey‘s ex-fiancée accused him of domestic violence, but he was not charged.

That frees him to continue his basketball career, which he’ll do in Dallas.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Mavericks could use another center, even if they re-sign Nerlens Noel. Salah Mejri is the only other true center, though Dirk Nowitzki will now play the position.

Withey is a good rim protector. Just don’t ask him to do anything away from the basket.

Dallas annually brings excess players to training camp and has them compete for regular-season roster spots. Whether or not his salary is guaranteed, Withey will likely fall into that competition.