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Bubble Bits: T.J. Warren Is The Talk of The Town

Cast off by the Phoenix Suns, T.J. Warren has reached new heights with the Pacers in Orlando and significantly brightens Indiana's outlook.

Every weekday, SI’s Chris Mannix will check-in with his Bubble Bits, a quick hit on something notable from inside the NBA’s campus

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Cash considerations. The words stung sting T.J. Warren. Still do. Getting traded is one thing, as Warren was last July, moving from Phoenix to Indiana. Getting dumped—which the Suns did, moving Warren for the NBA equivalent of pocket change—is another. Warren declared Phoenix made a mistake. He vowed to prove the Suns were wrong.

He has—or at least Indiana thinks so. Warren has been the biggest story of the NBA’s restart. He scored 53 points in the Pacers opening night win over Philadelphia. He followed it up with 34 and 32 against Washington and Orlando, respectively, which tied Jermaine O'Neal's franchise record for points over a three-game span. He added 16 more on Thursday against Phoenix, a revenge game of sorts that Indiana lost.

Warren’s offensive outbursts are impressive—though not exactly shocking. Warren has always been a scorer. He averaged 25 points his sophomore year at N.C. State, enough to make him a lottery pick. He was averaging double figures by his second year in Phoenix. He scored 18 points per game the season before the Suns traded him, becoming one of the NBA’s most efficient shooters. In his first year in Indiana, Warren is averaging career-bests in points (19.7) and field goal percentage (53.9%).

“If you know T.J. Warren,” Pacers guard Aaron Holiday said, “you know he’s a bucket.”

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The explanation isn’t complicated, either. Warren works—constantly. Teammates say he only thinks about the game. His mentor, ex-Pacer David West, was equally committed. “I play a lot of basketball,” Warren said. “Whether I’m at home or with my friends, I just want to be a hooper.” 

This season, with Victor Oladipo still recovering from a leg injury, Warren had more opportunities. He capitalized, posting All-Star level numbers. Defensively, Warren made significant strides. In Oladipo’s absence, Warren took on the opposition's top scoring wing, and was effective.

Indiana needs Warren now. But the Pacers have to be excited about having him in the future, too, when his ceiling could be even higher. A non-threat from three-point range his first four seasons, Warren shot 42.8% in 2018-19. In Indiana’s four games since the restart, Warren has been launching. He fired up 12 threes against Philadelphia—half of what he attempted in all of February. He shot 16 more over the next three games.

Warren didn’t work on his three-point shot during the pandemic. Like many, he couldn’t find a gym. At the parks he went to, the rims weren’t ten feet high. The work, Warren says, came mentally. He watched a lot of film. He “locked in” on his weaknesses. Pacers coach Nate McMillan has encouraged Warren to be aggressive, and Warren has embraced it.

“I’ve always been the underdog,” Warren said. “I’m comfortable with that. I just have to keep getting better day by day."

If Warren does, Indiana will benefit. The Suns wanted off the three years and $34 million remaining on Warren's contract. Indiana considers it a bargain. Oladipo, Myles Turner, Malcolm Brogdon and Domantas Sabonis are 28 or younger. Warren, 26, fits right into that mix. Regardless of what happens this postseason, the Pacers have a bright future. Warren is a big reason why.