TJ Warren’s impending return is set to give the Indiana Pacers a good problem

Indiana Pacers, TJ Warren (Photo by Ashley Landis-Pool/Getty Images)
Indiana Pacers, TJ Warren (Photo by Ashley Landis-Pool/Getty Images) /

Don’t look now, but what has been a seemingly catastrophic start to the season for the Indiana Pacers is now on the verge of a massive turnaround. Aside from recent encouraging signs on the court, the team could very well be on track to trot out a fully healthy roster in the foreseeable future.

After welcoming back Caris LeVert, and to a lesser extent, Malcolm Brogdon, from injury-related absences, forward TJ Warren, who has missed almost a calendar year due to foot injury, seems to be headed in the right direction on his rehab, with his most recent scan yielding encouraging results for his much-awaited return to the hardwood.

If Warren returns to the Pacers within the following month, presumably at the earliest, the Blue and Gold will be able finally have its first look on its projected starting lineup and core for the first time. His impending return will not only tremendously elevate the team’s ceiling, but also give them a problem—albeit a good one.

The Indiana Pacers will have a good problem on their hands as TJ Warren’s return looms

Despite the Indiana Pacers’ abundance of talented wings, TJ Warren arguably remains their best one. Forget the Bubble narrative—Warren, even on his normal days, is an uber-efficient scorer who can give the team buckets in succession from any spot on the floor. In the 2019-20 season, he easily led the Pacers on scoring with 19.8 points per game on a mind-boggling 53.6 percent shooting from the field, including 40.3 percent on treys.

As he reclaims his normal serving of minutes—after easing his way back, of course—some players who have been holding down the fort will have to accept lesser roles to facilitate his return.

Perhaps the biggest question surrounding Warren’s potential return is how it will affect rookie Chris Duarte‘s minutes moving forward. Already one of the Pacers’ best scorers, the coaching staff won’t likely cut his minutes too much, though his role may be different, going from a starter to a super sixth man, especially with the bench’s dearth of efficient scoring options.

Justin Holiday and Torrey Craig, Indiana’s resident 3-and-D guys who have played the bulk of small forward minutes, may see their minutes dwindle with Warren, who’s an above-average defender himself, on deck.

Trimming the fat in this sense, however, will essentially push some players out of the rotation. Jeremy Lamb, who’s been a virtual non-factor in most games for the Pacers so far, could be a justified recipient of DNPs and prompt the front office to venture into the trade market for him. However, Oshae Brissett, who has been in and out of the lineup, could be the odd man out as well—a bummer considering his upside.

On the secondary, having Warren back, a tenable small-ball 4 even in long stretches, could also make Goga Bitadze and Isaiah Jackson’s window to play even smaller. Barring an injury to the Turbonis tandem or the proverbial foul trouble, they could not even see the floor at all with a fully healthy assemblage.

While many adjustments have to be made in light of TJ Warren’s impending return, these problems are rather good ones, especially since all these are depth matters. His talent alone will ensure that the Indiana Pacers have a solid shot at climbing the Eastern Conference ladder.

Just don’t come at me whenever the need to blame anyone for jinxing it arises.

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