T.J. Warren: King of the NBA Bubble

T.J. Warren has been an absolute tour de force for the Indiana Pacers as the team has gone 4-1 in five games so far in the NBA’s restart, clinching the tiebreaker against the Philadelphia 76ers with a win to open the eight-game slate at Disney World and knocking off the championship favorite Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday night.

Warren has cooked a 50 burger, dropping 53 points in that Sixers game, and he’s served up the fries and Coke with 34.8 points per game overall and four games with at least 32 points on the board, including 39 in that Lakers win that also included the dagger 3 that put the game away in the final minute.

It’s not like Warren was a slouch before—these last five games have raised his season average to 19.9 points per game—but the sheer efficiency with which Warren has gone about his business deserves a “holy crap, dude, check this out, it’s amazing” statistical roundup.

We start with the obvious. Warren’s been shooting the lights out. He’s shooting 60.5 percent from the field, 55.6 percent from long range (for an eFG% of .693, which is are-you-kidding-me territory), and 88.9 percent from the free throw line.

For the season, he’s on 53.8/40.5/81.9, for an eFG% of .583 and a whopping .612 TS%, putting him among the league’s elite offensive players, and that was true even before his recent tear, since five games is all well and good but it’s just five out of 66 he’s played in all season. Warren was good before, the media’s just been sleeping on him.

Ironically, since it’s Pacers Twitter’s favorite pastime to dunk on the Phoenix Suns for trading Warren plus three second-round draft picks to Indiana for cash considerations, the one game Warren did not excel in the bubble was the Pacers’ lone loss, a 15-point drubbing at the hands of the suddenly resurgent and potentially playoff play-in participant Suns.

Warren was just 7-of-20 from the field, 1-of-5 from long range, and he picked up one of his two missed bubble free throws in his lone trip to the line where he split the pair. That’s 16 points and a minus-1 plus/minus, his only negative showing in five games and a relative rarity for a guy with an on-court Net Rating of 3.6 this season.

Of course, the discrepancy between a .405 3P% and a 53.8 overall shooting percentage demands an explanation, and it is here where Warren excels in spite of rather than because of his coaching.

Those midrange shots that are the hallmark of Nate McMillan‘s dinosaur of an offense? Warren is hitting 49.5 percent of his shots between 10 and 16 feet and 45.9 percent of long twos beyond 16 feet out, both career highs.

He’s also finishing exceptionally well at the rim, hitting 76.1 percent of his shots from three feet and in, which is shading into Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s territory (Greek Freak’s at 77.9 percent) and is better than Anthony Davis (75.5 percent.)

Put all of his distances together and Warren’s hitting 57.7 percent of his two-point shots, remarkable for a guy who has taken fully 49 percent of his shots (and over 60 percent of his two-point shots overall) from the no-man’s land between three feet out and the 3-point arc. Nobody in the modern era’s supposed to be able to do that. That’s the stuff that only weird statistical freaks like LaMarcus Aldridge or athletic forces of nature from the past like Larry Bird are supposed to do.

Oh, and remember how Warren used to be a terrible defender in Phoenix, never cracking league average in DBPM and posting negligible Defensive Win Shares?

He’s got a 0.0 DBPM this year (not Defensive Player of the Year, but more than adequate for his role in the league’s seventh-best defense) and 2.4 DWS, which combined with his out-of-this-world offensive efficiency has him with .144 WS/48, the average WS/48 you’d expect from the guys on a 59-win team.

And this is all with a .224 3PAR and a terrible coach who is putting Warren in a position to be mediocre and instead watching him be excellent.

One of the oldest canards in sports is the idea of “peaking at the right time” (especially in football, but basketball’s got its share of such things.)

And T.J. Warren? He is peaking at the right time, and it’s got Pacers fans on the edge of our seats wondering what he’s going to do next.