You don’t get to pick your team in the NBA draft, they pick you.
Given the way the Phoenix Suns play and the strengths of T.J. Warren’s game, the N.C. State forward from Durham might have picked the Suns anyway, if they hadn’t taken him on Thursday night with the No. 14 pick in the first round.
“They like to get up and down, get transition buckets,” Warren said in an interview with AZCentral.com. “They’re going to push the tempo up a little bit. I feel like my style of play really fits that.”
The Suns were one of the surprise teams in the NBA during the 2013-14 season. Under first-year coach Jeff Hornacek, they won 48 games and missed the final playoff spot in the Western Conference by one game.
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Guards Goran Dragic (20.3 points per game), Eric Bledsoe (17.7) and Gerald Green (15.8) excelled under Hornacek, one of the most consistent shooting guards in the NBA over his 14-year career from 1986 to 2000.
Former Duke forward Miles Plumlee, a castoff of the Indiana Pacers, also emerged under Hornacek last season, leading the team with 7.8 rebounds per game.
With potential free-agent issues, the Suns needed help at small forward. Enter Warren, 6-foot-8 and 220 pounds, who led the ACC last season with 24.9 points per game.
Suns General Manager Ryan McDonough called Warren, who set a new single-season scoring record at N.C. State with 871 points, an “elite” scorer.
“He’s one of the best scorers in the country,” McDonough said.
Hornacek noted Warren’s game will work nicely with the way Dragic and Bledsoe play.
“He’ll fit right in,” Hornacek told the Suns’ website.
Warren has the type of mid-range game that will complement Phoenix’s shooters. He has the type of scoring skill – he led the NCAA in field goals made – that Hornacek can relate to and appreciate.
“He’s got that unique skill of scoring,” Hornacek said. “When it comes time for the playoffs and you need to get tough buckets, we think he’s a guy who can get tough buckets.”
Warren said he visited the Suns twice during the draft run-up and felt good about his conversations with Hornacek.
“He’s a great guy and we just really clicked,” Warren said. “I knew I had great workouts when I came here, and I showed the coaching staff and the GM what I could bring to the table. I guess they saw something in me that they liked.”
As N.C. State’s first lottery pick since 1996, Warren is in for a good payday from the Suns. Shabazz Muhammad, the No. 14 pick in last year’s draft, signed a two-year, $3.86 guaranteed contract last season with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The real change for Warren will be leaving the Triangle. Save for one high school season at Brewster Academy in New Hampshire, Warren has been close to home.
He wasn’t worried about the change of scenery on Thursday, he was too overcome with emotion from realizing a lifelong dream.
“I’m just ready to get out there and get to work,” Warren said.