TJ Warren’s return to Nets alleviates Kevin Durant’s minutes load – The Denver Post


The Nets have a solution to Kevin Durant’s minutes problem.

A healthy TJ Warren.

Durant entered Friday’s matchup against the Toronto Raptors as the NBA’s leader in total minutes played (844), total points scored (699) and field goals made (246), as well as second in both free throws attempted (183) and made (169).

That is a significant amount of wear and tear on any player’s body, especially Durant, who is three years removed from a career-jeopardizing ruptured Achilles’ tendon and in his 15th NBA season at age 34.

Especially given this is his second consecutive season in Brooklyn with such a heavy load. Last year, Durant appeared in 55 games but averaged 37.2 minutes.

“We’ve had to play Kevin more minutes than we’ve wanted to,” head coach Jacque Vaughn said on Friday. “That’s just kind of where we are. He understands that.”

If Warren, who made his Nets debut on Friday against the Toronto Raptors after missing two straight seasons with stress fractures in his left foot, can stay healthy, however, the Nets can buy Durant more minutes on the bench.

That’s because the last time the basketball world saw Warren play for the Indiana Pacers, he was an Orlando Bubble sensation, averaging 27 points per game on the NBA’s isolated courts. If Warren is even a fraction of that player — and he believes he can fully reclaim that level of play — he slots perfectly into the second unit as Durant’s position-for-position backup.

“I think as we continue to get people back into the fold, it really does give us some flexibility to play different lineups,” Vaughn said. “So tonight we’ll try TJ with K and we’ll try him without him. But he will hopefully as he catches up to the speed of the game and everything and his conditioning [catches up], [he] give us the ability to play him in a lineup where Kevin can rest.”

For what it’s worth, Warren is likely a long way away from being a reliable option as Durant’s backup. For starters, he has only played against a mixture of players and coaches and will be playing against a legitimate opponent for the first time since 2020. There’s also the load management portion of Warren’s early-stage return.

If the Nets have learned from past missteps with Joe Harris, James Harden and even recently with Ben Simmons, they know they can’t expect a player who’s been out an extended period of time to assume a normal minutes load straight out the gate.

“That’s a long time – to come back and play and expect to play at a high level, and I think that’s why we have to, I don’t know, be careful in expectations and just have them be realistic and see where it leads us,” Vaughn said. “He’s probably not going to play to the best that we’ve seen him tonight, no. But if he can play with some excitement, some joy, that will be good enough. We’ll keep it simple — real simple for him.”

Warren is well aware it’s going to be a process before he feels back to his best self.

“Anybody you talk to coming back from a long layoff it definitely takes time,” Warren said. “But like I said before, I love to hoop, so I played basketball all the time before the injury obviously, but it’s just like riding a bike for me to just get my rhythm, my timing, and just understand ‘okay, it’s really real.’ Just get past that part.”

There’s evidence suggesting Warren, though, will turn a corner.

Seth Curry fully recovered from his off-season ankle surgery and has returned to form as a key member of the second unit. Joe Harris is still searching for his jump shot, but after two ankle surgeries last season, he is back to moving around the court at a high level. Even Ben Simmons had steadily improved until sustaining a calf strain that sidelined him until next week.

“The training staff here has done a tremendous job from top to bottom making sure I overcome this injury,” Warren said. “It’s a very difficult injury. I dealt with it for two years. And they knew how to attack it, and they did a great job; so credit to them for getting me back to this point, I’m very grateful for that.”

Warren is a scorer at all three levels. He has a career average of 15.5 points per game but has averaged a tick under 20 in two separate seasons. He looks for his offense around the three-point line and at the high post, two areas the Nets look to get Durant the ball regularly.

It’s going to take time for Warren to get to mid-season form, but when he’s ready, he’ll be the solution to a problem the Nets have had since Durant arrived in Brooklyn.

How can they preserve one of the league’s most feared scorers for a deep playoff run?

“I think overall, just [TJ’s] physical, bigger body that you can put out there. That’s the immediate piece,” Vaughn said. “At the end of the day, he can score the basketball, and we’ll try to put him in positions where he can think instinctively and just play.”



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