Indiana Pacers: How winning has changed T.J. Warren’s look

He’s not their best player nor the prized offseason acquisition, but T.J. Warren’s play is a big reason behind the Indiana Pacers’ success this season.

For five seasons with the Phoenix Suns, Indiana Pacers forward T.J. Warren never got his due.

He wasn’t an All-Star snub or your favorite player’s favorite player. But after being drafted 14th overall in 2014, he’d grown into a near 20-point per game scorer, capable rebounder and much-improved 3-point shooter.

The Suns won 39 games in Warren’s rookie season but stumbled down the standings in the following four years, bottoming out at 19 victories a season ago. It’s why few put any stock in his steady progression, even as he was one of just 12 forwards from 2017-19 to average at least 18.0 points per game and shoot above 49.0 percent from the field.

They couldn’t help stop the Suns from falling to the bottom of the Western Conference.

As Warren made the jump to the Indiana Pacers via a draft-day trade, he was expected to help keep the ship steady in anticipation of the return of Victor Oladipo.

As the Pacers’ season rounded into form, so has the perception of what he brought to the table.

Warren is currently the leading scorer on the sixth-best team in the Eastern Conference pumping in 18.5 points per game. For the first time in his career, Warren’s plus-minus per 100 possessions was positive at plus-2.5.

To get to this point, there was no startling offseason reinvention to become more efficient with a shot selection that doesn’t currently conform to analytics.

Warren’s attempts within three feet of the basket have actually gone down this season, while his looks anywhere from 10 feet out to the 3-point line have seen a noticeable increase.

The key for Warren has been to rely more upon what is a far better cast of teammates compared to the one he had in Phoenix — his assisted 2-pointers are second-highest of his career.

Indiana ranks just outside the top-10 in passes and fifth among NBA teams in assists per game. Head coach Nate McMillan has fostered an unselfish mindset among his players, helping Warren to ridiculous percentages from the areas most teams try to avoid.

He’s canning over 50.0 percent of looks from 10-16 feet and 47.6 percent from 16 feet to beyond the arc, both career-highs. Warren’s also shooting a career-best 76.3 percent within three feet of the hoop.

Of every NBA player taking at least 14.0 shots a game this season, Warren’s 2-point percentage ranks seventh overall at 57.2, higher than stars like Anthony Davis, James Harden and Damian Lillard, and his true shooting percentage ranks 11th.

Plenty of players are perceived as losers early in their careers or those with empty-calorie numbers given their inability to carry a bottom-feeding team in superstar fashion.

Warren isn’t the Pacers’ All-Star this season. That’s Domantas Sabonis. He’s not the face of the franchise. Even while returning from injury, that’s still Oladipo. He wasn’t even the organization’s premier offseason acquisition, a title that instead belongs to Malcolm Brogdon.

He’s simply playing the way he always has since entering the league at a level he’s maintained for the last couple of years. It just took a new environment for it to help contribute to a worthwhile cause.

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