T.J. Warren, SF/PF, N.C. State
If there's one thing that'll draw attention your way in basketball, it's scoring ability. North Carolina State forward T.J. Warren took that and ran with it, averaging 24.9 points (third in the nation) on 52.5% field goal shooting en route to being named ACC Player of the Year and leading his team to a 22-14 record.
Since the end of the college basketball season, Warren has continued to solidify his draft stock in the middle of the first round on strong pre-draft workouts, and the possibility remains that he could be available when the Memphis Grizzlies pick at 22.
Warren's neither explosive or a great shooter from deep, but there were very few defenders in college basketball able to stop him from getting what he wanted inside the arc. Of all the NCAA players in DraftExpress' top-100 prospects, he ranked 3rd this season in percentage of team possessions used while on the floor (29.8%) and 4th in points per possession (1.27). Few guys can combine high usage with elite efficiency, but Warren was one of them. He might be the second best scorer in this draft after Creighton's Doug McDermott.
There's many different types of scorers in the NBA, but we might not know one quite like Warren. The floater is his greatest asset, and he uses it to make up for a lack of spectacular ball-handling ability or speed. Warren can effectively attack a close-out or sometimes show off a nifty change-of-direction move that can get him to the rim, but most often, he'll grind and bump on a drive then rise over a (help) defender to loft in a shot from the in-between range.
Other bullet points in Warren's scoring toolbox include an effective midrange shot, a high level of activity off the ball and on the offensive glass, and assertiveness on the fast break. He has significant dimensionality to his offense, and the ability to score in a variety of ways should help him translate to a different offensive role in the NBA. Warren should have little problem becoming a secondary scorer that attacks the paint out of a spot-up, reads the floor to make cuts for layups and offensive rebounds, and runs hard to score in transition.
The questions with Warren mostly relate to how he can complement his scoring, and fit on a NBA roster. NBA defenders are a little taller, stronger and faster than college guys and the 6-foot-8/220-pounder will have to be a bit more opportunistic at first. That shouldn't be a huge problem because of his scoring versatility, but his usage will shrink some and so will the value of his scoring versus the value of his other skills.
Unfortunately, Warren's statistical impact was minimal after point production, and secondary stuff like spacing the floor, passing and defensive rebounding looked like a possible pitfall for teams that draft the guy hoping for NC State's go-to scorer. Warren shot 26.7% from three and averaged 3.9 defensive rebounds (disappointing after his more impressive 3.2 offensive rebounds per game) and 1.1 assists.
From a film study, it's apparent that Warren has a lot of work to do in polishing the details of his game. His shot form is flimsy and inconsistent when he's extended past the three-point line, and he's well off from being a reliable outside shooter. Defense also remains a question, and even though he registered 1.8 steals per game, Warren doesn't really have any outstanding attribute (mobility, length or strength) to resist being scored on. Though he operated as a mismatching 4 in college, Warren shapes up as a likely wing in the NBA and he hasn't clearly shown that he's capable of playing up to that position yet.
It's possible that Warren might not be able to get on the court in his first year. Even if he can get buckets, it's a bit unnerving to imagine him as a possible weak link on both ends, shown minimal respect when spotting up by opposing defenses and targeted as a defender himself. The Grizzlies know the damage of these attributes as well as anyone, as they suffered from players like James Johnson cramping their spacing and Mike Miller being exploited as a defensive weak link last season.
Still, Warren is sure to be an interesting player that the Grizz sniff around just for what he can do offensively. Johnsn and Miller are both free agents, and Warren could be an option they look at to replenish depth. He operates very naturally as a scorer and a kick of offense could benefit this team's bench. With the 22nd pick, he'd be a bit of a value get relative to where his draft stock is.
Scorers both efficient and prolific are far and few between, and Warren is one of the most talented scorers in this year's draft, no questions asked. He's only 20 years old and his flaws can be fixed to better enable his pure scoring ability. If he can cement his standing in a definitive NBA role, Warren has a very real shot of being a long-time starter in the NBA one day.