When the Phoenix Suns shocked the NBA world by trading for Kevin Durant, they also acquired another key player in this trade as well. Coming over from the Brooklyn Nets, TJ Warren re-joined the Suns after spending the first five seasons of his career in Phoenix.
Ahead of Game 3 of their Western Conference Semifinals series against the Denver Nuggets on Friday, the Suns face a ton of questions not only revolving around how they can overcome an 0-2 series deficit, but how they can replace Chris Paul.
Suffering a groin injury in Game 2 of this series that will keep him out at least a week, the Suns must find production outside of Kevin Durant and Devin Booker. Could TJ Warren be the player that Monty Williams turns to in Game 3 and beyond?
In his first stint with the Suns, Warren turned himself into a really solid offensive weapon, and the success he found as a primary scorer continued when he joined the Indiana Pacers in 2019. Having multiple breakout performances in the 2020 NBA Bubble, Warren missed almost all of the 2020-21 season and he did miss the entirety of the 2021-22 season due to a left foot injury. Multiple stints on the injury report have limited his overall impact this year, but the 6-foot-8 wing has shown flashes of what he can still do as a primary contributor off the bench since coming back to Phoenix.
Warren has only played at least 20 minutes in four regular season games for the Suns, but in those games, he managed to average 11.5 points and 4.8 rebounds per game while shooting 52.5 percent from the floor. With Cameron Payne likely to be elevated to the starting rotation in the wake of Paul’s absence and the Suns receiving little to no production from their bench through two games in this series, now is the time for Phoenix to get creative.
Whether or not he is truly healthy is a completely different conversation, but he has not been listed on the injury report and Warren has yet to play against Denver in this series. As mentioned before, Booker and Durant cannot carry this team on the offensive-end of the floor alone, which is why a player like TJ Warren could be extremely valuable for the rest of this series.
“I can do a better job of putting more scorers on the floor and living with whatever warts may come with that just to free those guys up so they don’t have to do it every single time down the floor,” Williams said recently after one of the team’s practices, via PHNX Sports. “We’ll make those adjustments accordingly.”
When you look at Phoenix’s bench, the two names that stick out in reference to Williams’ comments are TJ Warren and veteran guard Terrence Ross.
Known for being a key scoring weapon off the bench, Ross will most definitely see minutes in the Suns’ backcourt with Paul out. Warren is the X-factor for the Suns though, as his ability to score without someone making a play for him is something the Nuggets cannot necessarily match in their second unit.
“Those are two guys that could see significantly more time,” Williams continued in regard to Ross and Warren. “Those kinds of decisions only hurt you when you have an injury. Then you wish you could’ve got those guys a bit more reps to prepare for that.”
The biggest thing Phoenix is missing right now in their semifinals series is a spark on their bench.
In Game 1, the bench combined for 24 points on 8-21 shooting, but a vast majority of their points came late in the game when the outcome had already been decided. In Game 2, their second unit combined for just four points on 2-16 shooting. On the contrary, Denver’s bench has been the difference in this series so far, which is why the Suns must make a major adjustment. Losing Chris Paul is obviously a big deal, as he is the floor general for their offense, but looking to others to step up may end up being a blessing in disguise for the Suns.
Getting guys like Ross and especially Warren involved expands the Suns’ offensive arsenal, taking a ton of pressure off of Booker and Durant. Out of everyone on Phoenix’s bench, TJ Warren is the one player who can really make a difference if he is truly healthy and if they give him the freedom to play how is able to. Unlike Terrence Ross, Landry Shamet, and other players on the bench for the Suns, he has a well-respected mid-range game and Warren is able to attack his opponents and get to the rim.
What makes Warren such an intriguing talent, especially for the Suns, is that he fits their style of play perfectly. Phoenix has not been a high-percentage three-point shooting team in the playoffs and they tend to either attack the paint or take mid-range shots. This is exactly Warren found success early in his career with the Suns, it is how he found success with the Pacers and it is how he can continue to find success should he be inserted into the rotation for Game 3 against Denver.
The matchup against the Nuggets in particular is one that best suits the Suns and Warren as well. Bruce Brown and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope have been guarding Booker in this series and Aaron Gordon has primarily been guarding Durant.
Both Michael Porter Jr. and Jamal Murray are not really known for being above-average defenders, which means Warren could draw some very favorable matchups, especially against Denver’s bench unit that features the likes of Bruce Brown, Jeff Green, and rookie Christian Braun.
Having Warren on the floor with Durant and Booker gives the Suns another scoring option on the wing and someone who could instantly flip the script in this series. If he’s making shots and is allowed to play freely at times, TJ Warren can help the Suns come back and advance to the Western Conference Finals over the Nuggets.
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