Nets’ TJ Warren argues he’s the biggest steal in the NBA
ATLANTA — The Nets are coming off what could be their best three-game stretch of the season. TJ Warren is playing his best basketball since his return.
They are not aliens.
Brooklyn GM Sean Marks has shown a knack for finding gems, from Joe Harris and Spencer Dinwiddie to Jeff Green with minimal veterans. Warren is building a case to be his latest find, and probably the biggest steal in the league this summer.
In just 10 games with the Nets, Warren, who essentially missed two years due to multiple stress fractures and foot surgeries, has rediscovered his scoring touch faster than anyone expected and he played better defense than anyone knew he could.
The Nets visit Atlanta on Wednesday riding an NBA-best nine-game winning streak, and in their last three they have dominated defending champion Golden State by 30, knocked 2021 champion Milwaukee off the top of the Eastern Conference and they beat Cleveland to jump. the Cavaliers in third place.
During that span, Warren has averaged nearly 15.7 points off the bench, going 19-of-35 overall. And after going 1-for-7 from deep, he’s 6-for-11 in that stretch.
Warren enters Wednesday’s game with his best effort as a Net. The veteran forward scored 23 points on 9-of-14 shooting and grabbed a season-best eight rebounds.
When he joins Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving as the third scorer, he makes Brooklyn’s offense nearly impossible to contain.
“A great lift. He just has a knack for scoring the basketball. It’s fantastic. He’s going to hit some of the tougher shots,” coach Jacque Vaughn said. “He’s shot the 3 ball. … When he does that, it gives us flexibility to play both groups. … So adding some games and adding some minutes.” .
A high basketball IQ, mid-range game and smart cutting make Warren the perfect complement to Durant and Irving. And when they sit down, his shot-making ability makes him the perfect replacement.
With the Suns and Pacers, Warren averaged 19.6, 18.0 and 19.8 points between 2017 and 2020, and had a similar start the following season, scoring 17 points against Boston on 29 December 2020, before collapsing with the stress fracture.
Almost exactly two years later, it’s amazing to see Warren back to his best, averaging career highs in player efficiency rating, field goal percentage, field goal percentage, rebound percentage, assist percentage and almost all other advanced stats.
Well, impressive for most.
“I wouldn’t say I’m surprised,” Durant said. “What’s surprising is how well he’s deflecting the basketball on defense. Scorers like him take a hit in defence, but he has made an impact in this end. He is a natural.
“I thought it would take time for him to get his legs back, his confidence, but I was wrong about that. Hopefully he can keep it up. The coaches trust him, the teammates trust him, he’s been playing well.”
Warren agreed that his defense has been overlooked.
“Yeah, sure,” Warren told The Post. “When you score so easily and you’ve been a natural goalscorer basically my whole career, other parts of my game can be underrated. But it’s up to me to consistently prove that I’m a two-way player, just take pride in that and give 100 percent effort on both ends. Just don’t score, it’s defense too. So he just challenges me every night defensively.”
Vaughn has delved into defense, especially boxing. When he showed the players their stats in the latter area, Warren was at the top of the list.
“Just considering those possessions matter,” Warren said. “Just that focus and detail, boxing out, getting those possessions. Finishing off the defense with a rebound is so important when you’re trying to win big games. So I’m just trying to emphasize that now, so we’re looking at it consistently.”
Warren’s work on that end of the court has even impressed former Defensive Player of the Year runner-up Ben Simmons.
“It’s been great,” Simmons said. “Just building his confidence. It’s hard to come back, especially when you’ve been out for two years. So you see him build his confidence, hit shots, box out. He was top of the list. He made the biggest difference in the outings of box, so it’s been good.”
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