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Role Player of the Week: T.J. Warren

Phoenix Suns forward T.J. Warren (12) tries to get off a shot as Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green (23) defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Oct. 30, 2016, in Phoenix. The Warriors defeated the Suns 106-100. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin

We’ve brought back the Role Player of the Week Award for a second season!

Since stars like LeBron James and Stephen Curry get most of the highlights, this weekly article will highlight more under-the-radar players who excelled in their roles for a given week. It could be a young player coming into his own, or a veteran succeeding in a smaller role. Our winner for the opening week is Phoenix Suns youngster T.J. Warren.

Much of the focus of the Golden State Warriors-Phoenix Suns game was on the struggles of the defending Western Conference champions. But the outstanding play of Warren may have gotten lost in the shuffle.

Warren poured in 26 points on 21 shots, routinely causing headaches for the opposing defenders. He showed the in-between game that has made him a good scorer in his NBA career, combining his strength with unorthodox and quick shot releases to confound defenders:

 

Warren has always excelled at this type of play. It’s what gives him a high floor as a scoring option off the bench.

But Warren has shown a more complete game in a small sample size this year. He’s been willing to take threes, attempting nine in his first three games this year, compared to just 1.5 per game last year. His shots have looked good although he’s made just three of the treys, and if he continues to shoot them when open, he could be a much smoother fit with Eric Bledsoe.

Warren’s offensive rebounding was also a big factor against the Warriors. Warren scored three baskets off his own offensive rebounds, and he can be very useful in those areas. He’s much stronger than he looks and is always under control when he comes down with a rebound:

 

There aren’t many players in the league that would use the spin move Warren does, but he showed patience and good footwork to get an easy basket.

Teams are going to continually send perimeter players to the offensive boards against Golden State, so it remains to be seen if Warren will be as effective in that regard against other teams. But his size, strength and poise make him good at getting second chance points, and with the attacking ability of the Suns’ other guards, the 23-year-old could find himself in good position to take advantage of that skill.

Warren preceded his outstanding game against the Warriors with an even better game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, when he scored 30 points on 18 shots. Through three games, Warren is shooting over 50 percent and averaging 23.3 points per game.

In fact, the only thing that has stopped Warren thus far has been his foul trouble. He’s not a great defender, as he doesn’t have elite side-to-side burst and is often out of position. He’s also committed five fouls in each of his games. Although he’s still played a lot of minutes, committing lazy fouls could keep him off the court in the future.

But several of these fouls are easy enough to stop. Warren will never be a true stopper, but he could be a good enough team defender in time. And if he continues to improve his range and hone his scoring skills, he can be a building block for years to come in Phoenix.

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