T.J. Warren 'slowly but surely' finding his way in second run with Phoenix Suns
SACRAMENTO – T.J. Warren has looked a step slow for most of his second stint with the Phoenix Suns – until Wednesday night.
Warren seemed to find his rhythm late in the third quarter of Phoenix’s 122-111 road loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.
“Yeah, slowly but surely,” Warren said. “Good to be able to get out there, catch my second wind.”
Warren scored six points on 3-of-6 shooting in 20 minutes with his last basket, a putback of his own miss, pulling the Suns (38-34) within a point, 99-98, with 7:29 left in the game.
“It’s tough coming to a team that’s pretty established and trying to find a good rhythm along the way, but it’s been solid,” continued Warren, who also grabbed four rebounds. “Just looking to bring some value on both ends of the floor.”
Warren rejoined the Suns in the blockbuster Kevin Durant deal right before the Feb. 9 trade deadline. Phoenix traded Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, Jae Crowder, four first round picks and a pick swap to Brooklyn for Durant and Warren.
Warren is averaging a career-low 1.7 points in nine games with the Suns, but he has shown signs of what he’s capable of doing Wednesday.
“Trying to figure out a way for him to get a rhythm,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “I’ve got to find room for him, or at least figure out what he can and can’t do in our system. I don’t feel like he’s gotten a fair shake. I’ve told him that and at the same time, we’re trying to win games, which we've had a chance to do the last few games we’ve played.”
Phoenix is 1-5 in its last six games.
“I thought he was decent (Wednesday night),” Williams continued about Warren. “He got caught with (Lakers big Anthony Davis) in transition one time and Anthony ended up getting a follow-up dunk. And then on the DHO on (D’Angelo Russell). That was a big play. I felt bad just putting him in that spot, guarding a point guard in the corner of that DHO and they got the and-1. Other than that, I thought he was solid.”
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Durant still is out with a left ankle sprain he suffered during a pregame workout before what would’ve been his Suns home debut on March 8 against Oklahoma City.
Deandre Ayton also is sidelined with a right hip contusion, as he and Durant aren’t in Sacramento (43-29) where the Suns (38-34) conclude their three-game road trip Friday at Golden 1 Center.
Before the injury, Durant averaged 26.7 points in the three games he played with the Suns which all ended in wins.
Warren didn’t have nearly as seamless of a transition.
He scored just five points in his first game with the team on Feb. 14 against Sacramento. This was after going for 17 points on Feb. 7 against the Suns in what was his final game with the Nets.
Considered a walking bucket, Warren managed just four points in his next seven games. He went scoreless in five straight games as he played less than eight minutes in each one.
Warren is in the best shape of his NBA career after being able to train in the offseason without being bogged down with injuries, but he has struggled to find a rhythm on offense and seemed a step slow on defense with the Suns in this second go around.
Williams admitted to putting Warren in a “tough spot” early, but then didn’t play him for a couple of games against Oklahoma City and Milwaukee coming out of the All-Star break.
“Just a lot of guys to play," Williams said after losing to the Bucks last month. “We’re already playing 10. To play him, you’ve got to bump somebody out and we feel like we have a decent rhythm with D-Lee (Damion Lee) and for the most part, J-O (Josh Okogie) and Torrey (Craig) have been manning that starting spot. Pretty soon we’re going to get Kevin and that’s going to knock somebody else out.”
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"They defend No. 1. They have a number of guys that seem to have transitioned well into their role eventhough they were traded mid-season."
"From this point on, it's going to be more of a concise rotation."
Monty Williams on #Lakers, rotations after playing 12 at OKC. #Suns pic.twitter.com/X4ne6N2cxd
— Duane Rankin (@DuaneRankin) March 21, 2023
Durant made his Suns debut in Phoenix’s next game on March 1 at Charlotte. Warren also saw action in that one, but he shot just 1-of-5 from the field for two points in 13 minutes.
Warren played a total of 23 minutes in his next six games and didn’t score in any of the games, but Williams called his number Wednesday after saying he was going to a “more concise” rotation moving forward.
Playing 20 minutes, the most he’s seen in this second stint with the Suns, Warren scored back-to-back buckets late in the third quarter and looked more like the guy who can go get buckets.
“It’s always tough,” said Suns All-Star Devin Booker, who was teammates with Warren during Warren’s first run in Phoenix. “You’re going into a team, a foundation that’s been set already. They know he has the talent and we’ve seen his talent before. It’s just about finding the chemistry, finding the flow.”
Warren played his first five seasons in Phoenix before getting traded to Indiana after the 2018-19 season. Averaging 14.4 points on 49.7% shooting in his first stint with the Suns, Warren missed the team’s final 33 games of that fifth season with what the team called a right ankle soreness, but he said it was a bone bruise.
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The 6-8 forward bounced back to average a career-high 19.8 points in 2019-20 with the Pacers as he led them to the playoffs. Erupting in the Orlando Bubble, Warren averaged 31 points in the six “seeding” games. He went for a career-high 53 against Philadelphia.
Looking to build off that, Warren only played four games in 2020-21 as he suffered a stress fracture of his left foot that required surgery and missed the entire 2021-22 season.
Warren signed a one-year deal with the Nets in July 2022, but didn’t play until Dec. 2 of the same calendar year. He averaged 9.5 points in 26 games with Brooklyn before Phoenix brought him back in the Durant deal.
Have opinion about current state of the Suns? Reach Suns Insider Duane Rankin at email@example.com or contact him at 480-787-1240. Follow him on Twitter at @DuaneRankin.
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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: T.J. Warren trying to find his way in second run with Phoenix Suns