Tucker Impressed, Not Threatened, by Backup's Progress

Barry Gossage/NBAE
by Matt Petersen

In 28 minutes off the bench against Sacramento on Wednesday night, T.J. Warren looked like a men set free after years in captivity.

That's because his former warden was no longer a scrimmage opponent, but a teammate cheering him on.

P.J. Tucker is usually matched up against Warren in intrasquad pickup games. Over a year's worth of daily familiarity has given the veteran forward a leg up on how to stop the young scoring machine. Tucker will often be chest-to-chest with Warren, giving him little to no space to catch the ball, let alone score.

"I just know what T.J. likes," Tucker laughed. "If somebody doesn't know his game, he'll get off. You've got to watch him."

The Kings didn't, and they paid for it in the Suns' preseason opener. Warren used his unique array of mid-range jump shots, drives and floaters to put up an easy 17 points on 8-of-14 shooting. Late in the game, he made the usual difficult pull-up shot in transition look easy, swishing it through the net to put the Suns in front for good.

“If somebody doesn't know his game, he'll get off. You've got to watch him. He's so good in the paint, getting around and finishing those little short shots, his little float game.”

— P.J. Tucker on T.J. Warren

"He's so good in the paint," Tucker said, "getting around and finishing those little short shots, his little float game."

Warren's offense offers an extreme contrast to Tucker's defense-first approach. When the latter does score, it's either on hustle plays inside or by spotting up for the occasional three-pointer. Warren has proven capable of scoring in bunches at the NBA level after leading the ACC in scoring in his sophomore season at North Carolina State.

Suns Head Coach Jeff Hornacek says Warren's game has improved since last season, which ended with the then-rookie averaging 8.4 points on 55.9-percent shooting in just over 21 minutes per contest.

"When we can get him the ball and get him opportunities, he makes the plays," Hornacek said. "Defensively, he's much better than he was last year. I like what he's doing defensively on guys. He's taking challenges. He's got a great knack."

Warren's progress casts some intrigue at small forward, a position Tucker has manned as the starter for the last two seasons. Phoenix's veteran leader, however, views the youngster's growth as a win-win for both him and the team.

"For me, it's not a competition," Tucker said. "We're two totally different players. He's my young boy. For me, I just like to see him getting better and keep working towards being a really good player in this league."

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