T.J. Warren, the steal of the offseason

T.J. Warren, Indiana Pacers (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)
T.J. Warren, Indiana Pacers (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images) /

After a five year run in Phoenix, T.J. Warren came to the Pacers over the summer as a salary dump. This season’s revenge tour is going to be just the beginning.

At the quarter mark of the season, the Indiana Pacers are a very pleasant surprise. They currently sit sixth in the East, but are only 1.5 games behind the second seed Boston Celtics. Not many people would have bet Indiana would hold a better record than Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets let alone Donovan Mitchell and the supposedly rejuvenated Utah Jazz in the West.

This is all with All-Star Victor Oladipo working his way back from last year’s knee injury.

Sporting a roster with eight new faces, the Pacers were expected to fill-in their star’s scoring by committee. Domantas Sabonis was expected to make a jump, Malcolm Brogdon was going to be given a bigger role than he had in Milwaukee, and Jeremy Lamb had shored scoring chops during his time in Charlotte.

The last part of that committee was to come by way of T.J. Warren after his trade from Phoenix. Warren was a salary dump from the Suns and as part of the 3-team trade, the Pacers also received two future second-round picks from Miami. Indiana essentially traded their cap space for a guy that had averaged almost 19 points per game the previous two seasons and draft compensation.

Kevin Pritchard basically stole the Suns’ lunch money and they thanked him by having their friend give up their lunch money for tomorrow. Sure Warren has injury history (he only suited up for 43 games last season and has never hit the 70-game threshold in five seasons), but in the new load-management era it is much easier to keep those guys from going on the shelf.

To start his Pacers’ career, Warren has led the team in scoring nine times in 21 games. He has also showed last season’s spike in 3-point efficiency, a jump from 22.2 percent to 42.8 percent (which is almost unheard of), was not a fluke by  knocking down 40.9 percent so far this season. He’s currently second on the team in scoring with 18 points per game and his 50.8 percent shooting from the field is the highest since his rookie season, a point when he wasn’t a full-time rotation player.

This jump uptick in efficiency coupled with his first real attempt at defense in his NBA career has given the Pacers something they can really work with. He’s averaging a career low 107 defensive rating while already closing in on his career-high in win shares (0.9 this season with his career high of 1.1 coming in 2016-17). Last season, FiveThirtyEight’s DRAYMOND defensive metric graded him as the 10th worst defender in the league, just behind Nik Stauskas, but don’t be at all surprised if there was a vast improvement in that ranking this year.

This may all have to do with a simple change of scenery. This is Warren’s first opportunity with a winning team. His rookie season was the only time during his Suns’ career that the team eclipsed 25 wins. TWENTY-FIVE WINS. Just for a little context, during that same stretch the Pacers’ lowest win total was 42.

One of the major questions facing his current production is how his role will change when Oladipo does finally return to the court. Warren is a bit of a ball stopper at times, averaging only 1.1 assists per game this season, but his tough-shot making will still be important. One advantage he does have for this situation is the experience he gained next to another go-to scorer in Devin Booker during his time in Phoenix.

One other big thing with Warren is he fits the Pacers timeline perfectly. He is still only 26 year old and under contract on an affordable salary for two more full seasons. The team has time for Sabonis and Myles Turner to continue to progress (both are still only 23) while Oladipo, Brogdon, and Warren work their ways into their primes.

This is a relatively young Pacers’ team. Jeremy Lamb has the most NBA experience at seven seasons, but is also only 27. There is still plenty of room for Indiana to grow from within.

Next. A strong start to the season gives the Indiana Pacers reason for optimism moving forward.. dark

Most importantly, each player needs to continue to excel in their role as to not disrupt the current ecosystem. The Blue Collar, Gold Swagger teams from the Heatle era showed a team that becomes greater than the sum of its parts can be very disruptive to even all-time great teams. It’s time to see if this rendition of the Pacers has that same drive to get to that cohesiveness.