Indiana Pacers: How important is the return of T.J. Warren?

The 2020-21 season was a huge letdown for the Indiana Pacers, largely in part to the absence of T.J. Warren who missed most of the season due to injury. Warren hit his stride at the end of the Bubble season in 2020 and was primed for a crucial role last season.

Indiana set a franchise record for points per game with 115.3 last season under Nate Bjorkgren and did so without Warren handling the load. He was the team’s leading scorer the year before with a lot of promise heading into 2020-21.

T.J. Warren’s return will spark the Indiana Pacers

After leading the Pacers with 19.8 points per game in 2019-20, it was presumed that Warren would help lead them back to the playoffs last season. His injury early in camp slowed his start and eventually limited him to just four games on the year. After shutting himself down for the season, Warren shifted his focus to the upcoming campaign.

Under Nate Bjorkgren, the Pacers had three players average over 20 points per game, four if you can’t the handful of games that Victor Oladipo started. If Warren was healthy, there’s no reason to believe he wouldn’t have been in the same realm.

The Pacers had plenty of issues with health last season. Their lack of depth on the wings allowed opposing offenses to attack the basket with ease and knock down uncontested threes whenever they wanted. Warren has improved his defense quite a bit since arriving in Indiana and his absence was just as clear on that end.

Heading into this year’s draft, the Pacers will need to do a lot of work on defensive-minded wings who can help clean things up. Having a young bulldog that can fill in off the bench behind Warren would give Indiana a very strong 1-2 punch on the perimeter. Moses Moody stands out as a very valuable option for Indiana at 13th overall.

Even if the Pacers do land Moody in the draft, the return of Warren cannot be overstated for next season. Not only is he playing on a very team-friendly contract, but his ability to score from anywhere while also being an upgrade defensively will give the Pacers the veteran presence they need in the starting five.

No disrespect to Doug McDermott or Justin Holiday but Warren is simply a much better player with a lot more moves in his bag. When the Pacers struggle to find shots, they can turn to Warrn – and now Caris LeVert, too – to create shots for themselves.

His return also signals a move back to the bench for Oshae Brissett. Brissett was arguably the story of the season for the Pacers last season after he made an incredible impact upon joining the team. He made plenty of highlight plays while also being a good defender in the frontcourt that earned a role for the future.

With Brissett now sliding back to the bench where he can thrive, the Pacers have a feisty 3-and-D threat that can fill in at the four next to Goga Bitadze and Justin Holiday. While Brissett did have his moments as a starter, playing him off the bench is best for him and this team moving forward.

If we assume the Pacers do go after a wing in the draft, that leaves them with Justin Holiday, T.J. Warren, Oshae Brissett, and the rookie to serve that role. While losing Doug McDermott in free agency would be tough to swallow, it does help them with the money side of things. McDermott is in for a pretty hefty payday this summer and the Pacers may not want to match it.

The loss of Warren last season left the Pacers scrambling for answers. Far too many players were called upon to try to fill his role on offense and while the scoring was there, the consistency and defense were not. Bringing back the best pure scorer on the team is going to elevate the Pacers quite a bit.