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The under-the-radar signing that could put Nets over the top in 2022-23

Nets, TJ Warren, T.J. Warren, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant

Most of the focus surrounding the Brooklyn Nets this summer has been on Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. Irving’s contract negotiations and Durant’s trade request dominated national media throughout the offseason.

But things have now cooled on both of those fronts. And through Brooklyn’s soap opera, some of the team’s smaller moves were easily overlooked. Most notably, the signing of T.J. Warren to a minimum contract.

Warren played just four games in the last two seasons after undergoing surgery to repair a navicular stress fracture in his left foot. However, the versatile forward was among the breakout players in the league in the 2019-2020 NBA season. He addresses a major position of need for the Nets.

The North Carolina State product averaged 19.8 PPG on 40.3% shooting from three in his last full season. That included a 10-game stretch in the bubble in which Warren averaged 26.6 PPG on 54.1% shooting from the field and 47.5% shooting from three. He started that run with a 53-point outburst on 9-of-12 shooting from three against the Philadelphia 76ers.

Brooklyn now hopes that the eight-year veteran can regain his form in a complementary role. If healthy, Warren presents a terrific scoring option off the bench. At 6’8″, the 29-year-old’s rare combination of size, shooting, and ball-handling ability makes him a true three-level scorer.

Warren gets to the basket and utilizes the mid-range far more than wings such as Joe Harris and Royce O’Neale. This is reflected in his shot chart. In 2019-2020, Warren took:

44% of his shots from 0-10 feet

33% of his shots from 10-23 feet

23% of his shots from three

Further, Warren proved efficient in each of those areas, shooting:

64.6% from 0-10 feet

47.7% from 10-23 feet

40.3% from three

This three-level scoring efficiency should take pressure off Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving on nights when they struggle. It also gives Brooklyn a secondary ball handler and potential lead scorer when the team rests its stars. That has proven extremely valuable through the grind of the regular season, especially given Durant and Irving’s injury history. Brooklyn leaned on Cam Thomas heavily as a lead scorer and distributor with the team depleted at points last season.

If all goes as planned, Durant, Irving, and Ben Simmons will dominate the ball on most nights. The most encouraging aspect of Warren’s fit alongside Brooklyn’s stars is his improvement as a spot-up shooter. The former ACC player of the year shot 42.1% on catch-and-shoot threes in his last two seasons. He joins a group of shooters in complementary roles that already included Joe Harris, Royce O’Neale, Seth Curry, and Patty Mills.

Warren also made significant strides as a perimeter defender in his last full season. At 6’8’ with a 6’10” wingspan, the wing/PF adds to the overall length and athleticism of Brooklyn’s lineups. The Nets were severely lacking in size and defensive versatility against Boston in their first-round sweep. Warren’s skillset will allow Brooklyn to field more athletic lineups against bigger teams such as Boston and Milwaukee without making concessions offensively.

There are legitimate doubts about Warren’s ability to stay healthy over an 82-plus game season. That is reflected in his $2.6 million salary.

While navicular stress fractures are rare, several players have come back from the injury. Per injury analyst Jeff Stotts, seven notable players sustained the injury from 1985-2017: Michael Jordan, Quincy Pondexter, Brendan Haywood, Joel Embiid, Marc Gasol, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, and Yao Ming.

Four of those players successfully returned. Jordan and Ilgauskas sustained the injury early in their careers and came back to play 10-plus seasons. Same for Embiid who returned to become a perennial MVP candidate. Gasol had surgery for the injury at 31 and returned to become an All-Star the following season.

Ming (7’6″) had surgery at 29 and played just five games the following season before retiring. Haywood (7’0″) sustained the injury at 34 and played just one season after. Pondexter had surgery at 25 and returned to play 75 games the following year before dealing with knee injuries later in his career.

Nick Grosso, a sports medicine surgeon and president of The Centers for Advanced Orthopaedic, said the injury has “an 80%-plus healing rate”. Overall, Warren’s youth and height appear to be positives when predicting future health.

The 29-year-old has the potential to be a home run minimum signing during an all-in year for the Nets — the kind of signing that can put a contending team over the top if he pops.

2022-2023 is a prove-it year for both Warren and the Nets. Training camp kicks off in two weeks.