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T.J. Warren's departure for NBA presents challenge for North Carolina State

T.J. Warren, N.C. StateT.J. Warren led the nation in made field goals this season with 342. (Skip Peterson/AP)

North Carolina State got what it wanted from T.J. Warren and T.J. Warren got what he wanted from North Carolina State. That's a fair enough arrangement even if it ends after just two years an uninspiring 46-25 record, and even if it prompts some rather important questions, such as how the Wolfpack intend to play offense next season without the guy who did most of it for them.

 

But to expect that Warren was going to remain on campus after a propulsive sophomore season was . . . well, it's hard to describe how delusional that thought would be. So his decision to leave for the NBA, first reported by Yahoo! Sports and confirmed by multiple other outlets, is no shock. The 6-foot-8 sophomore was the featured performer for the Wolfpack and the ACC player of the year, averaging 24.9 points and 7.1 rebounds per game and shooting 52.5 percent from the floor. He scored 20 points or more in every game after Jan. 11 and put up 41 and 42 points in back-to-back wins this month against Pittsburgh and Boston College.

In his brief career in Raleigh, Warren was every bit the lodestar performer Mark Gottfried needed him to be, even if it only resulted in one NCAA tournament win in two trips. As a five-star recruit in Gottfried's first full recruiting class, he also represented instant credibility for the program.

Where N.C. State gets its points from here, however, will be a mystery. It's nearly a total rebuild with all the parts on hand, given how dominant Warren was on the offensive end. His possession percentage of 33.87 ranked fourth in the nation and his shot percentage of 37.33 ranked third, just behind Creighton All-America Doug McDermott. Warrem hoisted more than twice as many shots (652) as the guy with the Wolfpack's next-highest total, Ralston Turner (310).

But at least Gottfried has a fleet of Warren understudies to craft into something more in the offseason.

Of the nine players who saw action in 33 or more games, seven are eligible to return. Turner and Desmond Lee, the second- and third-leading scorers, will be seniors. After that there's a nice blend of fairly well-regarded youth, plus two more four-star recruits coming aboard in power forward Abdul-Malik Abu and swingman Caleb Martin. The default assumption is that N.C. State will morph into a better-than-the-sum-of-its-parts club. There may not be any other option.

Redirecting some energies to improved defense might help. That ought to have been a priority whether Warren returned or not, given that the Wolfpack ranked 124th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, per kenpom.com. One way to compensate for losing a ton of point-scoring ability is to limit the capacity of other teams to set the scoreboard ablaze. That might be the best course for a new-look N.C. State next year: Concentrate less on finding ways to replace Warren's ability to light opponents up, and more on preventing opponents from doing that to the Wolfpack.

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