Suns for­ward T.J. War­ren mak­ing quiet im­prove­ments

The Arizona Republic - - Sports - Kather­ine Fitzger­ald Ari­zona Repub­lic USA TO­DAY NET­WORK

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.”

ROB SCHU­MACHER/THE REPUB­LIC

T.J. War­ren dunks the ball against the Sacra­mento Kings in the first half on Jan. 8 at Talk­ing Stick Re­sort Arena.

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