A look at T.J. Warren’s defensive improvement with the Pacers this year

Indiana Pacers (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
Indiana Pacers (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images) /

T.J. Warren’s defense has taken a step forward with the Indiana Pacers

T.J. Warren has had a step-forward year with the Indiana Pacers this season.

While many of his years previously have focused on one or two specific points of emphasis, this season he’s put the pieces together and rolled out an extremely complete, all-around high-level season.

With the Pacers, he’s shown he can be a basketball player rather than a one or two-skill weapon.

When the Pacers traded for him this summer, the general sentiment was that he would bring some much-needed shooting and offense to the roster, especially with Victor Oladipo out at the start of the season, but that his defense was worrisome.

Given that the Pacers are built on a foundation of strong defense, it’s crucial that starting players are up to snuff on the defensive end.

Of players that logged more than 100 minutes with Phoenix last season, Warren was 11th on his team in defensive rating and defensive box plus/minus last season.

Warren was 50th in real plus/minus last season among all small forwards at -0.70. This season he sits at 13th at 0.76, ahead of players like OG Anunoby and Justin Holiday and not far behind Tobias Harris and Trevor Ariza.

Warren this season has guarded forwards mostly. Warren has been logged guarding forwards for 23.7 partial possessions per game this year, surrendering 4.9 points on those possessions (0.207 points per possession). That’s improved from last year where he surrendered 6.1 points on 28.9 partial possessions (0.211 points per possession).

Warren guards the backcourt much less frequently this season but surrenders 0.267 points per possession on guards compared to 0.385 points per possession last year.

Statistically, he’s taken a huge jump.

These defensive tracking stats can be a bit noisy and dependent on the fabric of the team’s defense at-large. Warren’s stats are boosted by the teammates around him.

Warren is helped statistically by being on an all-around better defense in Indiana than he was in Phoenix.

Phoenix was 29th in defensive rating that season, Indy is 7th this year. Warren is able to slot in as an ancillary defensive piece in Indiana and has very little pressure to put out an exhaustive level of effort on that end of the floor.

Still, Warren is finding ways to stand out on a good defensive team, logging the fourth-most defensive win shares behind Domantas Sabonis, Myles Turner, and Justin Holiday.

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In spurts, he’s shown in increased awareness on the defensive end, a strong switching ability, and the knack to find a way to stop his matchups. He has a tendency to fade into the background of the team’s defense at times when he has the physical ability to do more, but he’s very rarely been a liability which is extremely relieving considering the worries some had about his defensive game coming into the season.

He’s held players like Devin Booker to four points in nearly 20 possessions and Jimmy Butler to 10 points in 48.1 possessions on Warren.

Warren isn’t a premier defender by any means, but it’s one of the things that was noted as a deficiency for him coming into the season and he’s done well enough for it to be a net positive for him this year.

He won’t be getting the primary matchup in any given night like Thad Young used to for the Pacers, but you can count on him to not bleed points away to the complementary pieces of any given opponent.

Part of that is credit to a higher-level system, yes, but Warren does what he needs to in order to be a working cog in the Pacers’ defensive engine.

Next. Teams that might be interested in Justin Holiday this summer. dark