T.J. Warren recently showed the world, on national television, how well he is playing basketball this season. The Indiana Pacers took on the NBA’s best team, the Milwaukee Bucks, on ESPN just a few weeks ago. Warren dominated, pouring in 35 points on just 19 shots while leading the Pacers to a 118-111 victory.
35 points is a huge night, especially on a Pacers team that typically shares the ball equitably. But that wasn’t even Warren’s biggest scoring outburst this season. In early January, the scoring wing dropped in 36 points in his home state during a win over the Charlotte Hornets. “My teammates did a good job of finding me and putting me in [my] spots,” Warren said after that game.
Big scoring nights that fly under the radar have been common for Warren this year. He’s scored more than 30 points in four different games; he only did that five times in his entire career prior to this season. Indiana has been the perfect place for Warren’s offensive skillset.
His throwback game and ability to hit shots from anywhere on the court is more welcome on a team like the Pacers than a different one that takes more analytically-friendly shots. Head Coach Nate McMillan allows his players to take shots from anywhere on the court if they are open and capable of hitting it. For Warren, that’s anywhere, and he shows it nearly every game.
“Shooting at a good percentage for me [is easy],” Warren said of taking shots from difficult locations. “The percentages [are] on my side. Being able to hit [mid-range shots] at an efficient rate compliments my game. The coaching staff knows that, so I continue to play my game and just be the best three-level scorer I can be.”
The percentages are, in fact, on his side. Warren’s true shooting percentage this season is 60.1%, a top-50 figure in the league. That’s impressive for a guy that A) gets up a ton of looks from normally inefficient areas and B) attempts a substantial volumes of shots.
“I know it’s a real analytical driven league right now, [but] I feel like the percentages are on my side with those type of shots.” Warren said about taking a high volume of mid-range looks. “Me being able to make those difficult runners, floaters, mid-range… I think that’s the beauty of my game, just being able to capitalize on anything the defense gives me.”
With statements like that, it almost seems as if Warren knows his numbers by heart. From 4-14 feet away from the rim, he’s hitting 46.8% of his shots, a career best. On two-pointers from 14 feet away out to the three-point line, he’s canning 49.3% of his jumpers, also a career best.
Calling them jumpers, while technically accurate, is misleading. Warren loves to toss or push the ball into the basket. They don’t look like conventional shots. But they catch defenses by surprise and they go in, which makes them effective. That’s all that matters.
His teammates view his scoring prowess as a part of his makeup. “[Warren] has a quiet confidence. He’s honestly as confident as they come,” Malcolm Brogdon said on a Fox Sports Indiana broadcast before the Pacers took on the Suns in January. “But you know his personality is quiet; he’s laid back. He loves the game; he loves to just play.”
Warren’s hushed personality is a part of his game. Rarely, unless your name is Jimmy Butler, do you hear anything from him. Instead, his abilities speak for him. He’ll shimmy past you and hit a layup in traffic. He can rise up and hit a three in your face. Once he’s at the rim, he’s automatic. That says everything about his game.
“If it’s a wide-open three? I’m taking it,” Warren said. “Pull-up? I’m taking it. Floaters… [I’m] just comfortable with every type of shot.”
His aforementioned three-pointer has come a long way. In the first four seasons of his career, the former Phoenix Sun hit 79 total three pointers. He’s hit 64 already in a Pacers uniform, well on his way to exceed that 79 number in just one season. Warren has made huge strides with his long-range jumper, which has opened up the rest of the floor for him.
That open floor is part of what allows him to have 30-point games. There is no right way to defend him. He’s seen every coverage — every defensive strategy — in his life. He’s been playing basketball since he was young, and now nothing puzzles him. He knows how to beat any defender.
“It’s a combination of confidence and just playing a lot of basketball,” Warren said of his ability to generate points no matter how he is guarded. “Me knowing where guys like to defend and me knowing my angles… just continuing to think of creative ways to be a scorer.”
Warren mentioned his grade school days in North Carolina — Raleigh and Durham, specifically — as the time when he first experienced these matchups. That’s interesting, isn’t it? A player crediting their grade school days for their NBA skills is unique.
But that’s what T.J. Warren’s life has been: all basketball, all the time. He ascribes his love for the game at a young age for a lot of his talent now. That basketball obsession is behooving him now that he is a Pacer; the Indiana culture is perfect for his mindset.
One of his mentors, former Pacer David West, described why Warren’s fit with the blue and gold is fantastic. In Indiana, Warren’s passion for hoops has more meaning than it ever has before in his career. “It’s a different environment when you’re preparing to win every day,” West said earlier this season. “Every game, every practice, every shootaround means something. It’s a new experience for him, but I think he’s enjoying it.”
The “it”, here, being Pacers basketball. For Warren, Pacers basketball is scoring from wherever he wants in a manner that contributes to winning. Few players have his ability to hit shots from, quite literally, any location on the court. “I just want to play my game and be myself out there,” he said in January. That’s what the Indiana Pacers want, too. When Warren is himself, he scores a ton of points. And when he does that, the Pacers win games.
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