Few players in recent memory have seen their NBA draft stock and overall reputation take as big of a hit as Willie Warren
s has this past season. Considered a likely top-10 pick had he elected to declare a year ago, Warren decided to stick around for another season and has seen his stock plummet to the point that its anyones guess where he might be picked at this point.
Some terrible losses early in the season, being benched in one game for undisclosed reasons, getting called out by his head coach in the national media at one point for his immature behavior, a nagging ankle injury that seemingly wont heal, an untimely bout of mononucleosisits tough to see how this season could have possibly gone any worse for the super talented sophomore.
Its been a disaster for Oklahoma as well, as theyve gone from being ranked in the top-10 in some preseason polls to sporting a 13-14 overall record and a disappointing 4-9 in the Big 12. His head coach Jeff Capel has pointed the finger directly at the player he convinced to return to school, repeatedly discussing agendas, a failure to buy in and showing off for NBA scouts as some of the reasons his incredibly talented team has underachieved so badly.
Warrens on-court production has taken a significant hit in virtually every category. His 2-point percentage is down 5%, his 3-point percentage is down 6%, his turnover rate has nearly doubled and his assists and scoring are only up slightly in turn. Clearly playing alongside the best player in college basketball last year in Blake Griffin
was far easier than the two hot-shot freshmen McDonalds All-Americans that replaced him--Tiny Gallon
and Tommy Mason-Griffin
--who obviously have their own agendas and difficulties in regards to playing winning team basketball.
Warrens role in Oklahomas offense has changed significantly in turn from last year to this, as hes gone from being a complimentary spot-up shooter, transition finisher and occasional pick and roll player to a guy expected to shoulder a significant amount of the teams half-court offense, often through his one on one play.
The place where Warren is struggling the most is with his jump-shot, as he just cant seem to knock down catch and shoot jumpers at the same rate as he did last season. Much of this obviously has to do with the quality of looks hes getting, as feeding off the double-teams Blake Griffin
garnered on a regular basis is a lot easier than having to create all of his open looks himself. Losing a pass-first point guard in senior Austin Johnson and seeing him replaced with a wild, ball-dominant freshman in Tommy Mason-Griffin
obviously hasnt helped either.
Warrens shot-selection isnt doing him any favors, though, as you regularly see him spotting up for jumpers a good 3-5 feet beyond the NCAA 3-point line. Although hes shown the ability to make this shot, there is simply no good reason for him to be taking such difficult attempts.
While Warren is surely a better shooter than the 31% hes making from beyond the arc this season, he needs to do a better job of understanding his limitations and not rushing as many contested look as he does each game. Still, its surprising to see him convert on just 30% of his wide-open spot-up jumpers (according to Synergy Sports Tech) considering his consistent, compact form and excellent touch.
Warren has improved his ability to make shots off the dribble, something hes been forced to do in his newly featured role. Hes converting an excellent 44% of his pull-up jumpers, again showing that outstanding knack for throwing the ball in the basket that had NBA types so excited about his prodigious scoring instincts this time last year.
As a shot-creator is exactly where Warren continues to show the most potential as an NBA player. Despite all of his shortcomings this season, his terrific talent is always looming in the background, reminding you how good he could become down the road if hes ever able to put it all together.
Warren has a great first step and is extremely strong with the ball, being capable of simply overpowering his man on the way to the basket, but also possessing the body control and agility to contort himself and get his shot off in a variety of ways. He takes contact extremely well around the rim, drawing fouls at a solid rate, and finishes acrobatically with terrific touch and instincts, showing a variety of floaters, runners, scoop-shots and all kinds of other elegant moves. His skill-level is, once again, obviously incredibly high, but he just doesnt always know how to harness it on a consistent basis, eventually getting out of control.
Warren has a tendency to dribble the air out of the ball, freezing out his teammates and looking quite selfish at times. He doesnt seem to trust the other players on his team that much, and tends to get frustrated easily if things arent going his way, which leads to terrible body language and even worse decision making. His turnover rate is sky-high this season, 4.6 turnovers per-40 minutes pace adjusted, as he coughs the ball up on 24% of his possessions, which is simply an unacceptable rate.
The unfortunate thing is that Warren actually knows how to create shots for others, even if hes always going to be more comfortable creating shots for himself first and foremost. He shows outstanding ability to drive and dish, particularly on the pick and roll, and will make some very creative passes from time to time that has led some scouts to believe that he may actually have a future at the point guard position at some point in time. Right now hes far too much of a ball-stopper to be a teams primary ball-handler, but with good coaching and added experience, thats not something you can rule out down the road in a Rodney Stuckey
or Tyreke Evans
Defensively, Warren is unimpressive, as is Oklahomas entire squad, which ranks a dismal 182nd in the country
in defensive efficiency according to Ken Pomeroy. He puts very little effort in for the most part, getting beat off the dribble on a regular basis, possessing neither the size, length or fundamentals to come up with many stops, and often just resorting to reaching for steals. Hes going to have to improve significantly on this end of the floor if he wants to see minutes for most NBA coaches, but does appear to have the quickness and instincts to become at least decent here if he is willing to put the time and effort in.
The season Warren is having obviously doesnt bode well for his NBA draft stock considering the reputation he had coming out of high school, that of a selfish player and malcontent. Certain NBA teams would be willing to put up with that when dealing with a superior talent and clear-cut difference maker, but now that Warrens flaws as a player have been put under the microscope in the absence of Blake Griffin
, his NBA draft standing is now a lot murkier.
Considering the clear-cut rift that appears to exist between him and Jeff Capel, it seems very unlikely that Warren will be back at Oklahoma next season.
The question now becomeshow far does he drop? At some point in the draft Warrens talent as a shot-creator and overall scorer (things which are in demand like never before in todays NBA) have to outweigh his negatives, and being picked up by a strong organization and reputable coach later on in the first round may actually be the best thing possible for him. The incredibly thorough background research NBA teams conduct will play a crucial role in where he gets picked.
Warren is the kind of guy that could quickly fade into oblivion if hes not willing to adapt his game to playing alongside better players than him (and accept that fact), but he could also end up making many GMs look quite foolish if he matures and lands in a good situation. Hes one of the most talented guards in this draft any way you slice it, and its tough not to feel like the more wide-open and up-tempo NBA is far better suited for his style of play.