Grant Afseth

Grant Afseth

Pacers columnist

There are only two teams that have managed to post a 3-0 record through three games to start the seeding games in the NBA bubble; the Phoenix Suns and Indiana Pacers — and the Pacers have done so without All-Star forward Domantas Sabonis in the lineup. He left the bubble to seek treatment for a foot injury.

Without Sabonis, the Pacers moved T.J. Warren to the four spot, and he has done nothing but thrive — averaging an NBA-most 39.7 points per game in seeding games.

During the shutdown, Warren spent a lot of time working his perimeter shooting. That was put on full display when he tied the single-game record for most made 3-pointers (nine) in Pacers history en route to a career-high 53-points against the Philadelphia 76ers. Since that performance, he has tied Jermaine O’Neal for the most points (119) within a three-game span in franchise history.

“I’m just really in a rhythm, I’m really picking my spots,” Warren said. “[I’m] just being efficient and just playing hard overall.”

The execution Warren has experienced from beyond the arc has been impressive, but it’s been equally fascinating to see the rate that he has taken them. He is shooting 14-of-23 (60.9%) on 3-pointers with these shots accounting for 31.9% of his attempts from the field — up from 21.3% prior to the shutdown.

Throughout the earlier portion of Warren’s NBA career, the only element of his scoring repertoire that he lacked was a reliable perimeter jump shot. He has since become a reliable catch-and-shoot threat from this distance since his final season with the Suns but hadn’t quite embraced pull-up shooting yet — until now.

“I think he’s just playing in a flow,” Pacers coach Nate McMillan said. “[Warren’s] knocking down a high percentage of his shots, [he’s] just really efficient right now.”

Warren’s frequency for pull-ups from 3-point range has gone from accounting for just 1.8% of his shots from the field before the shutdown, up to a 12.5% frequency since the resumption. This is an important attribute to have since being reliable in this area forces on-ball defenders to go over the screen in pick-and-roll situations.

Integrating a pull-up from beyond the arc is a major development for Warren if it can remain consistent. If teams do change up their game-plan in order to prevent him from pulling up from beyond the arc, it will make things easier for him to get to his floater and to operate in mid-range. For a player already highly efficient from within the 3-point line, that’s possibility is highly intriguing to think about.

“Coming here with the circumstances and everything going on, I took it upon myself to just really lock in and just really take [my game] to another level,” Warren said.

The scoring efficiency Warren has posted already fared quite well among the league’s higher volume scorers. Now, his output of 1.149 points per possession leads all 51 players in the NBA with a minimum of 1,000 scoring possessions. His incredible run has helped boost his overall efficiency. Now, he is showcasing a complete scoring arsenal and is being utilized fully to showcase it.

A key reason for Warren’s previous scoring success and continued results has been his uncanny ability to convert on floaters, even when he’s facing contact or tight contests. His output on these attempts is now 1.099 points per possession and that also is the best in the NBA when compared to all 16 players with a volume of attempts exceeding 100 total. This often enables him to make the most of a possession most players would have come up empty on.

What can be said about Warren’s impact on floaters can be said about his impact on general finishes around the basket — providing the Pacers with an output of 1.329 points per possession. Among all true perimeter players with at least 200 finish attempts, only Luka Doncic and reigning league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo have been more efficient than Warren.

Warren’s ability to operate within short-range (inside 17-feet) as a jump shooter has been critical in his scoring repertoire — producing 1.038 points per possession on these particular shots. Only Chris Paul and Devin Booker have produced a more efficient output than Warren this season when stacked up against all 20 players in the NBA with at least 125 short-range attempts.

It hasn’t mattered which play type Warren has operated in as a scorer this season considering he’s found success seemingly across the board. His general ability to use his strength when going downhill makes him a load to handle coming off high ball screens, handoffs and isolation situations along with the periodic catch-and-shoot jumper from deep.

With Myles Turner providing spacing as a stretch-five, there is no shortage of room for Warren to operate making things even more difficult for opposing defenses. He’s able to pick his spots and use pace in order to properly setup the defender in an advantageous way, enabling him to decide between using a floater or a short-range jump shot when turning the corner. Factoring in his willingness to shoot pull-ups from 3 and contested catch-and-shoot looks, it’s no wonder an elite scoring output has been the result.

The upcoming matchups on the Pacers’ schedule feature some true tests for both the team and Warren. Next up is Thursday's matchup against the also undefeated Suns and they have a highly effective and rangy wing defender in Mikal Bridges who likely will get the assignment of slowing down Warren. Coming out of that showdown with another impressive scoring display should put the NBA on notice.

After the Suns, the Pacers will face off with the Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, Houston Rockets, and then the Heat once again. Both matchups with the Heat will prove to be pivotal in the positioning for the Eastern Conference playoff picture as the Pacers trail Miami by just one game in the standings.

Grant Afseth is the Tribune’s Pacers columnist. He may be reached at grantafseth@indianasportscoverage.com.

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