Suns forward T.J. Warren making quiet improvements
If the tweaks he’s making to his game are quiet, that’s just T.J. Warren’s nature.
Coach Igor Kokoskov has seen Warren make improvements on defense, as the fifth-year forward works to be more well-rounded.
“It’s just locking in, playing hard, that’s all,” Warren said Saturday. “It ties in together – when you’re on the offensive end and everything’s going well, you kind of just want to play both ends, offense and defensive, so just locking in on both ends of the floor.”
It’s not without challenges. This season, Warren is routinely going up against bigger competition. He hasn’t seen a major decline offensively. Warren is
putting up the second-most points on the team, averaging 17.6 a game, and just below last season’s career-high of 19.6 points per game. Instead, he’s focusing on his defense.
“When he’s on offense, we know he can score, he can score in bunches. That’s what he does for us, that’s what he’s done for this team since we drafted him,” Kokoskov said Saturday. “I think he’s taking defense as a personal challenge to prove he can guard. As a basketball player, he’s a guard. He’s not necessarily a four, three, two – the way the game goes right now, we’re switching a lot, so for him to be able to guard inside presence, guys with the size, and to contain faster guys, it’s a challenge . ... He’s taking it as a personal challenge, takes some pride into it, and getting better.”
Warren doesn’t feel that his role is any different when the team’s leading scorer, Devin Booker, is out. Entering Saturday’s game, Warren had rattled off four 20-point performances in a row. Sometimes it’s effortless to the point that his teammates double check the stat sheet.
“T.J. is a guy that we say likes ‘quiet buckets.’ So he’ll go in there and you look up and it’s like, 20 points in the third quarter,” Ryan Anderson said. “Like what? And then he’ll have a steal, and he’s finishes at the other end.
“And it’s almost expected, you know, it’s not this big show because he’s so talented. There are few players that have that ability to do make a quiet, huge impact on the game.”
Warren is quiet in more ways than one. He talks after his bigger games, but he seems to prefer avoiding the spotlight.
He has a close relationship with veteran guard Jamal Crawford; Anderson says the team calls Crawford “the T.J. Whisperer.” With neighboring lockers, the two joke around and talk about things outside the game, like music.
Crawford and Warren just got to know each other this season, and Crawford says the friendship came organically. Crawford jokes that people think Warren doesn’t talk, but in half a season, he knows better. “He’s really funny,” Crawford said.
Those outside the locker room may have to take Crawford’s word on that. In a league dominated by boisterous personalities that often spill right over into social media, Warren mostly keeps to himself. Sometimes that means the numbers he’s putting up also fly under the radar.
“People gravitate towards the louder-type guys, and he’s a guy that would get so much more attention probably if he was a bit louder,” Anderson said. “But he doesn’t want that. He doesn’t need it.
“He shows what he does on the court and that’s enough for him, and it’s enough for us. I mean he’s having a great year, and we love having him, so he’s a great guy.”
T.J. Warren dunks the ball against the Sacramento Kings in the first half on Jan. 8 at Talking Stick Resort Arena.