Why Phoenix Suns Forward T.J. Warren Needs Your Attention in Fantasy Hoops
The Phoenix Suns are currently riding the longest playoff drought in their franchise's history. For fans in the Valley of the Sun, they are now seeing signs that the Suns' front office, coaching staff and players are determined to move from rebuilding to contender status.
The team's focus on winning has already begun, well before opening day. At the Suns’ media day, Eric Bledsoe noted that players from the team participated in voluntary pick-up games over the summer. While doing so, they kept track of which player had the most victories. According to Bledsoe, that guy was forward, T.J. Warren.
Wherever Warren has been, he has been as good as there is at scoring the basketball. With all the big names in the ACC from Duke, North Carolina, and the like, it was North Carolina State’s Warren who led the conference in scoring in 2013-14.
He was viewed to be one of the most unguardable players in the conference, averaging 24.9 points per game on 52.5% shooting from the floor. His presence was also felt on the boards, averaging 7.1 per game in his final season with the Wolf Pack.
Warren as a Rookie
During his rookie season in Phoenix, Warren found himself in somewhat of a logjam at the small forward or hybrid four position. This resulted in his spending considerable time on the bench and off and on some time spent with the Bakersfield Jam of the NBA Developmental League. Warren made it impossible for the Suns to overlook to keep him over there, averaging 26 points per game in his nine appearances.
By late February of last season, Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek decided it was time to add Warren to their rotation for the stretch run while the Suns were competing with the Pelicans and Thunder for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West. Once Hornacek gave Warren his chance, Warren's energy and tough play made good on Hornacek's decision.
After the All-Star break, Warren averaged 7.8 points and 2.8 rebounds while shooting 55% from the floor in a little over 19 minutes of play per game. Warren shined for the Suns in March, where his minutes increased as a result of shooting an impressive 64% from the floor. Coming off the bench, he scored in double figures for the Suns eight times after the All-Star break but never attempted more than 12 shots in any one of those games. That represents true scoring efficiency.
Warren's most impressive production was his career-high 18 point performance back on March 29, 2015, where he shot a blistering 80% (8 of 10) from the floor and two-of-two from the free throw line. He added five rebounds, two assists, two steals and a block in this game, which the Suns needed in the playoff race. That’s as good a stat line as you'll see from a player in limited minutes.
A Hot Summer
The end of the Suns' season in April represented the start of the next step in Warren’s growth. For the second consecutive year, he participated in the NBA's Las Vegas Summer League. Warren averaged 22.4 points and 3.4 rebounds per game and was again named to the all-league team.
For this coming season, Warren will no longer be behind Gerald Green or Marcus Morris on Hornacek’s depth chart. As the team headed north to Flagstaff, Arizona for training camp, Warren was believed to be listed right behind last year's starter at the small forward, P.J. Tucker.
For the Suns, Tucker is not an imposing offensive figure but compensates through his tenacious defense. In 2014-15, Tucker owned an Offensive Rating of 108 and a Defensive Rating of 105 in 2,383 minutes. Warren, in 614 minutes with Phoenix, put up marks of 108 and 109, so his offense -- according to this measure at least -- was on par with Tucker's though his defense was a bit worse.
Lo-and-behold, just a few days into Suns training camp, Warren was being worked in with the starters over Tucker which unloads big-time possibilities for him and his fantasy potential being a starter in this offense.
We know about the Suns run-and gun style which can be very favorable for fantasy owners because of the amount of offensive possessions they can have over the course of the game. The two-point guard lineup (whether you love it or hate it) of Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight is all about attacking the weak side of defenses in the half court with able ball handlers. They expect it to create scoring chances for either themselves, or others in a motion offense.
Players in this role the last couple of years like P.J. Tucker, Gerald Green and Marcus Morris have had many opportunities for open looks from the corner (the money shot for analytics lovers) or lanes to penetrate for a high percentage shot. Before they played in this system, guys like Tucker, Green and Morris were not owned in most fantasy leagues. While with the Suns, they each became assets, especially in deep leagues.
Warren will not be your answer if you are looking for help outside the arc, but getting to the dish is Warren’s bread and butter. He excels when heading to the rim or putting up high percentage shots. Rebounding consistency will be an area that could also drive Warren’s value up. With Tyson Chandler now in the mix inside, there is likelihood that Warren will grab rebounds while opposing teams focus on keeping Chandler out of the lane.
Efficient scoring, multiple rebounds and additional stat filler contributions are all expected from T.J. Warren. If the trends he started at the end of last season continue, there is the potential of great late round fantasy draft value by adding him to your roster.