T.J. Warren has been a certifiable bucket-getter his entire life.
As a sophomore at NC State, Warren led the ACC in both scoring (24.9 points per game) and field goal percentage (52.4 percent) to take home conference player of the year honors over eventual No. 2 overall draft pick Jabari Parker. What made Warren so fascinating to watch in those days wasn’t just how much he scored, it was how he did it. Warren stockpiled points on a barrage of floaters and runners, leaning layups, and mid-range pull-ups. It seemed like he scored on everything but three-pointers.
The Phoenix Suns would tab Warren with the final pick in the 2014 lottery, where he established himself as a misfit scorer who didn’t coalesce with the league’s larger trends. Namely: Warren still wouldn’t shoot threes, even with the league’s long distance revolution in full swing. He failed to even attempt 100 three-pointers in a season through his first four years, despite averaging nearly 20 points per game in 2017-18.
Eventually, the Suns started another rebuild and Warren felt like a holdover from previous era. Last offseason, Phoenix essentially gave him away in a cash dump, trading him to Indiana just to get his contract off the books before free agency.
Warren is now playing the first meaningful basketball of his career on the Indiana Pacers, starting every game for a team that’s currently No. 5 in the Eastern Conference. With his playoff debut just around the corner, the 26-year-old forward is showing everyone his game translates to the highest level of play.
Because right now, T.J. Warren is acting like the best scorer alive inside the NBA bubble.
Warren is playing out of his mind inside the bubble
Here are Warren’s stats through three games in the bubble:
- 39.7 points per game
- 5.7 rebounds per game
- 3.3 assists per game
- 2.3 blocks per game
- 2.0 steals per game
- 65.2 percent shooting from the field
- 60.9 percent shooting from three-point range
Best of all, the Pacers are 3-0 inside the bubble, one of only two teams that can say that right now. The other? Warren’s former team in Phoenix. The Suns and Pacers face-off on Thursday, too.
Warren’s bubble breakout started with the best game of his career: 53 points on 20-of-29 shooting from the field against the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday. It was one of the most impressive scoring displays we’ve seen all season.
Warren’s outburst was the third-highest scoring effort in Pacers history, joining Reggie Miller and Jermaine O’Neal as the only other to score as much in a game for the franchise. What stood out about Warren’s effort was his unbridled confidence from three-point range.
The scorer who has always preferred to do his damage from inside the arc finally found his stroke from downtown. Warren hit 9-of-12 three-pointers in the game, hitting several shots from significantly behind the line to stretch the Sixers’ defense out as much as possible.
Just look at where he fired his final dagger of the night to ice the win for Indiana:
For a full breakdown of Warren’s opening performance in the bubble, read Caitlin Cooper — the best Pacers analyst around — over at Indy Cornrows. Warren didn’t stop there.
Warren continued his scoring outburst with his old tricks
Two days after torching Philadelphia, Warren went off again against the Wizards. This time, he only shot 1-of-6 from three-point range, but he still dropped 34 points on the night. Warren had his mid-range and around-the-basket game going in full effect:
Warren has always been had great size for a hybrid wing, listed at 6’8, 220 pounds. He clearly kept up with his conditioning during the hiatus, and he’s looking fast and strong since entering the bubble.
His ability to absorb contact, regain his balance, and finish around the rim has long been a key to his game. Yes, this finish comes over the pint-sized Isaiah Thomas, but it’s indicative of how Warren has been getting buckets his entire career.
Warren came out hot again vs. the Orlando Magic on Tuesday. He went 7-for-7 in the first quarter on his way to 32 points for the night. Warren again had three-ball working for him, hitting 4-of-5 shots from deep, but he wasn’t overly reliant on shooting from beyond the arc.
Instead, Warren was using his touch inside the arc to score in his signature ways. This looked like the player who once led the ACC in scoring:
The tough mid-range looks and long floaters Warren specializes in are the types of shots opposing defenses want to give up. As the game continues to slow down in the playoffs, Warren’s deep bag of tricks inside the arc should become even more effective.
Why is Warren going off right now? Indiana’s small ball lineup helps.
The Pacers were dealt a crushing blow when All-Star big man Domantas Sabonis had to leave the bubble to treat plantar fasciitis. Without him, Indiana has adopted a three-guard lineup with Malcolm Brogdon, Aaron Holiday, and Victor Oladipo starting together with Warren at the four and Myles Turner at the five.
The extra space has been a huge benefit to Warren. With shooters around the perimeter — including Turner, who is 7-for-9 from three inside the bubble — Warren has had all the room he needs to bully his way inside and finish even when the defense is keyed in on him:
The Pacers are largely an afterthought in the Eastern Conference playoff picture in the wake of Oladipo’s lingering quad injury and now Sabonis’ foot problem. Right now, they’re in line for a first round matchup with the Miami Heat that no one will expect them to win.
Fortunately, the Pacers don’t really care. They will play their game and dare anyone to beat them.
If T.J. Warren keeps playing like this ….
Who knows what could happen in the playoffs? Fans are already having fun with just how great Warren has been inside the bubble.
Warren has been getting buckets for a long time, so don’t say this scoring barrage came out of nowhere. For as long as they’re in the bubble, the Pacers will need him to keep it up.