The quietly assertive T.J. Warren is one of the league’s best kept secrets. He’s been somewhat overshadowed by the captive audience teammate Devin Booker has engrossed because Warren’s style isn’t typical for today’s NBA wing. He’s an ultra efficient two-point assassin who takes 90 percent of his shots within the three-point arc while shooting 36 percent of those shots within three feet of the basket. That very conscience decision has resulted in Warren shooting 50 percent from the field while averaging a career-best 19.7 points per game.
Warren has had to grow up expeditiously in an organization that has endured an enormous amount of controversy in the four years he has been in the league. He’s already playing for his third coach and has weathered the team storms that surrounded Markieff Morris and Eric Bledsoe while they were on the roster. Now the the 6’8 forward, whose basketball influences include Bernard King and Tracy McGrady, is hoping his play can one day get the recognition it deserves. His demeanor isn’t as boisterous as some of his heroes, but his game is starting to speak loudly and that’s just the way he likes it. Warren spoke with us about life as a member of the Suns, having multiple teammates and what he hopes the future has for him.
WS: What did you work on this summer to enjoy the success you are having?
TW: I went back to the basics, didn’t make my workouts too complicated. Just simplifying it and doing efficient work. A lot of mid-range and transition with a variety of shots–shots that I normally take in a game.I just tried to master those shots.
WS: Some of your role models were great scorers but they shot the three. You are practically a 20 points per game guy without drilling a bunch of threes. Can you discuss your affinity for the mid-range and getting to the basket?
TW: With me and my mid-range, it’s just about understanding my skill and strengths. I just look at the efficiency of my shots and I see that I’m shooting a high percentage from mid-range. It’s just me really playing to my strengths and not going outside of them. I know I’m capable of shooting threes but right now I’m just so efficient getting to the rim and with that mid-range that I’m just going to play to my strengths.
WS: What’s your favorite go to move? Do you prefer to iso or get the ball off of some sort of action in the offense?
TW: It just depends how the defense is guarding me. I don’t have a set go to move I just kind of look how the defender is guarding me and go from there. Some guys say my floater would be it but I adjust to however the defense is playing me.
WS: So you mentioned you recognized how efficient you’ve been. Are you a guy who studies your own film often or checks things like synergy?
TW: Yeah and we have an analytics guy. I understand why my shots are high percentage shots around the rim, mid-range and in transition. Like I said I really just have to master that and then maybe another summer I’ll master something else. I want to keep adding different things to my game that can make me the player I want to be.
WS: What do you see as the next part of your development? Is it the three or something else like defense or play making?
TW: Definitely the three for spacing purposes. Just me being able to shoot the three consistently. I know I’m capable of doing it so I want to be able to showcase that. The next thing would be play making and helping others guys get better. I want to be able to use my scoring threat against the defense to open it up for guys on my team.
WS: It’s often thought that offensive players don’t like to play defense. What’s your take on that and some of your personal defensive philosophies?
TW: Defense is all effort, energy and having that want to do it. You see some guys that don’t want to do it because they don’t want to get in foul trouble. For me, I want to get into guys and use my hands–break up a lot actions using my basketball IQ. I know I have a lot of room for improvement in my game and defense is something I want to master as well. The more years I get in the league the more tricks I learn on the defensive end regarding rotations and things like that.
WS: So this team is pretty young overall but do you consider yourself a leader on this roster? Do you lead more by example or by voice?
TW: Well me, I’m not a very outspoken guy so I try to lead by example. Hopefully guys see me going hard 100 miles per hour with energy and they can just follow my lead. I want to continue do that. Leadership is something that I want to work on and being more vocal. Talking to guys so that they can understand where I’m coming from.
WS: With that said you’ve been in a situation where leadership above you has been in question and there has been a lot of turnover on the roster. You are entering a veteran stage almost by default because you are still there after all the changes with the roster. How are you helping some of the younger guys adjust?
TW: I talk to rookies and second year players because this is my fourth season and I’ve been around a little bit. I try to tell them that it’s a long season. At this point of the season right now is when your body feels the worst. You know All-Star break is around the corner so you just want to push through and be tough mentally. I tell them that this is what you love to do. You’ve been doing this your whole life and now at the highest level you want to take advantage of it. Just go hard everyday you can.
WS: Like you said you’ve been around a little while now and have seen multiple trade deadlines. What are your thoughts on all the activity at the NBA Trade deadline this season?
TW: The trade deadline is just part of the business and you understand that guys are going to get moved around. It’s crazy because I’ve had a lot of teammates over my four years. It’s tough to see that stuff but you’ve got to understand it’s part of the NBA. Once it happens you have to move on and continue to get better by working on your game.
WS: Speaking of a lot of teammates, you have a new one coming in. What is your relationship with Elfrid Payton and are you looking forward to playing alongside him?
TW: With Elfrid it’s kind of like a blessing. He’s one of my best friends. We got drafted together and we are with the same agency. We worked out and worked towards our dream together before the draft. It’s just cool to have him as my teammate now and I look forward to getting out there and getting better with him.
WS: Often times with players so young the team sometimes takes on a collegiate environment. Is that the feel of this team despite all the roster movement over the years?
TW: Everybody is young and fresh out of college. I’m 24 and still young myself so it’s almost eye-opening. You just have to know this is your job now. For me, I don’t look at this as a job. I look it as something I love to do and that I’ve been doing all my life. Some guys I’ve known in the past lose that love for it because stuff is going south. But I realize I’m waking up and I get to go shoot basketball for a living. That’s just how I look at it. It’s just a blessing man.
WS: Well said. So you are having fun just by doing your job. What are some of the other ways as a team that you all interact? I know shooting contests and things like that break up some of the monotony at times. Do you and Devin Booker or other players ever go at it to have a little fun?
TW: Well we have shooting games before every morning walk through. I recently won the last one we had (laughing). Me and Devin–we compete a lot. With him being such an elite scorer and me being a scorer myself it’s just great to learn from him and he learns some stuff from me. In practice and more so in the early stages of training camp…we go at it. It’s fun to compete against him.
WS: What are your plans for NBA All-Star weekend and the break?
TJ: Slow motion man. Just kick my feet up with the family. Watch the All-Star stuff and hopefully I’m in there in the coming years. I want to use it as motivation and continue to get better. I’ll reflect on the first part of the season and see what I can work on in the second half of the season.
WS: What’s something about the NBA that you couldn’t have prepared for that you’ve learned in your time in the league?
TW: That’s a tough one. For me, I guess it was just understanding the business. I feel like you have to go through it a couple of years to just really understand what’s going on. Nobody in college could really teach me the business part you just have to experience that. Once you’ve seen it first hand you know that you have to be prepared for anything
WS: Do you have any rivalries in the league friendly or otherwise?
TW: Definitely Kevin Durant I love going against him. I feel like every time I play him I learn something. He’s one of the guys I like to play against. I know some guys are like ‘nah I don’t want to guard him’ but I look forward to guarding him man. That’s just a fun matchup for real.
WS: So in your own words. What is the ceiling for T.J. Warren? 25 points per game guy, NBA All-Star, Hall of Famer?
TW: Those are goals that I want to achieve but more importantly it’s about being the best player I can be. I know have the potential to reach all of those accolades you just named but it starts with me and it’s going to take a lot of work. I’m up for that challenge and I can’t wait to see how my career unfolds. But all those things you mentioned sound good (laughing), so I’ll be working towards that.
WS: What’s your take on social responsibility? I know you do some stuff back home in North Carolina.
TW: I have a foundation actually. I give back to my high school and the communities out there. I’ll be doing some work when I go back home (during All-star) for some of my old schools and I’m looking forward to that. My mom is running it but I’m hands on with it when I’m there.
WS: Some players feel like they have to give back and it’s more of chore than an opportunity. Is your sense of giving something you developed as a result of how you were raised?
TW: Oh absolutely! I understand that I was once that young kid. I just imagine that if one of my favorite NBA players was coming back and doing that in my area when I was kid what that would mean. I know what something simple like a smile can do for a kid for his life.It can be something he’ll remember for his lifetime. I just want to give that feeling back. David West is one of my mentors and he’s molded me into that man to understand that kids are really special. So you just want to put smiles on their faces.