The announcement had been expected since the team lost its second-round tournament game, and last Tuesday it became official when North Carolina State’s T.J. Warren declared for the 2014 NBA Draft. The announcement was made by the university. “It’s been a fun ride the last few years. I’ve had some great experiences and now I feel I’m ready to play at the next level,” Warren said in a released statement. “Playing in the NBA has been a lifelong dream of mine and playing at NC State has prepared me well to achieve my dream.”
The Wolfpack sophomore finished the 2013/14 regular season with back-to-back 40-plus scoring nights, and in the NCAA tournament Warren averaged 26.5 PPG, 6.5 RPG, and 3.0 SPG. In 35 total games this season, Warren averaged 24.9 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 1.1 APG, and 1.8 SPG in 35.4 minutes per game. His slash line was .525/.267/.690. For his career Warren averaged 18.5 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 1.0 APG, and 1.5 SPG in 31.2 minutes per contest. His career slash line is .555/.315/.654.
Warren’s value is as an offensive threat. He can score in a variety of ways, and many of his skills should translate to the NBA. Despite his 24.9 PPG and ACC Player of the Year honors, Warren doesn’t project as an NBA superstar. He also won’t be a dynamic shot-creator or a No. 1 scoring option, but can still be a productive pro. I see Warren providing Shane Battier or John Salmons level numbers on the right team, but he’s not a number one option.
Warren is a highly unconventional player, and is quite a gifted scorer. He moves off the ball exceptionally well, and finds gaps instinctually in opposing defenses, and can score in a variety of ways. While not a traditional one-on-one player (most of his isolation plays come from the elbow or short corner), he’s extremely tough to defend because of the quality of his mid-range game and how many different release points he has on his shots. Jeff Benedict of SI.com said, “So many of Warren’s baskets this season have come after he’s used off-the-ball screens to get himself open. When moving without the ball, Warren is like a gun fighter who always has his hand on the trigger. Any sign of the slightest opening and Warren fires. Especially when he’s within 15 feet of the basket.”
He also displays terrific footwork, an extremely soft touch and has a knack for going glass. Warren is also extremely effective close the basket, making 69% of his non-floater attempts around the rim, which is also first among the Top-100 ranked prospects. Warren has also taken the third highest amount of runners and floaters in all of college basketball this season according to Synergy Sports Technology, hitting over 50% of these attempts, which is first among the Top-100 prospects.
Warren’s outside shooting may be suspect from NBA long range distance. He has shown some issues with his shooting stroke, and only connected on 26.7% of his threes last season. A long, low dip has been observed in his shooting motion, and he’s a bit “chicken-winged” when he raises up to deliver the ball. If he fails to refine these deficiencies, he won’t be able to stretch opposing defenses at the professional level. Continued inability to regularly connect from beyond the arc would end his chances of being a legitimate rotational weapon at the pro level. You can’t play the three or be a small four in the NBA unless you can shoot with real range and space the floor.
If Warren cannot find an effective role in the NBA, he may struggle to maintain substantial minutes which would lower his production and value. The positive view is that he wouldn’t require a whole lot of touches to put up points, especially when working in transition and away from the ball. As a third or fourth scoring option, he could score double digits with only eight or nine shot attempts per night. Warren could also operate well as a facilitator if he’s able to draw defenses in, because he’s demonstrated that he’s a capable if not always willing passer while at N.C. State.
His main weakness is that he doesn’t have a defined position in the NBA. Warren lacks athleticism at the wing, and he’s small for a post player and has short arms. Regardless of what position he plays he’s going to be at an athletic disadvantage due to poor lateral quickness and being only an average athlete.
Warren was primarily tasked with guarding power forwards at NC State, and will likely see more time on the perimeter defensively in the NBA, which poses another set of questions he’ll have to answer in his pre-draft workouts. Warren could have a lot of trouble guarding swingmen in the NBA according to Draft Express video analyst Mike Schmitz, whose scouting report stated, “Not a great on-ball defender…Not all that quick laterally…A bit of a ‘tweener on defense. Not strong enough for power forwards. Must be able to check NBA small forwards if he wants to be a 3.”
Warren’s tweener skills make his NBA value a bit difficult to predict. Most mock drafts have him as a mid-to-late first round pick. Warren currently ranks 18th in Draft Express‘ latest, 28th in CBSSports.com‘s, NBA Draft.net has him ranked 20th, Bleacher Report has Warren 23rd, and he ranks 32nd on Chad Ford of ESPN.com‘s Big Board.
The one facet that Warren has to sell teams on is his ability as a scorer. Whether he can defend well enough to stay on the court long enough to get his shots in will be a big question mark. Warren will also need to make adjustments and work towards improving his outside shot. The ceiling on his game has been compared to that of Michael Beasley and Trevor Ariza. Based on his college production and taking into account his limitations, Warren could make for a good value pick late in the first round, and would make a nice complementary piece on a playoff team. I wouldn’t take him in the lottery though, especially when players with higher upsides will still be on the board.