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With T.J. Warren Healing More Slowly Than Expected, Indiana Pacers Must Pivot On The Wing

By News Creatives Authors , in Business , at September 10, 2021

Indiana Pacers forward T.J. Warren has been out since December 2020 with a navicular stress fracture in his left foot. The Pacers never provided a defined timeline for Warren to return to action, and he didn’t play for the remainder of the 2020-21 season.

This offseason, though, signs of Warren’s health status improving began to emerge. He shared a post on Instagram showing that he participated in a group workout with other Pacers players in California. Roughly two weeks later, Warren tweeted, “I played basketball today. I had fun.” It appeared as if the dynamic scorer was trending towards being ready to return to action at some point in the not-so-distant future.

But on Tuesday, an announcement from the Pacers cast doubt over that line of thinking. The team provided an update on Warren’s injury, stating that, “Warren’s stress fracture in his left foot is healing during the rehabilitation process; but not at the pace previously anticipated. He remains out indefinitely.”

This update doesn’t provide a clear timeline for Warren to return to action, but the fact that the Pacers needed to release this brief suggests that he will miss at least some amount of time to open the 2021-22 campaign. Training camp begins in just a few weeks, and Indiana’s starting point guard, Malcolm Brogdon, indicated on The Woj Pod that the Pacers will come back two weeks early to prepare prior to training camp. That timeframe is in just a few days, so Warren will be unavailable for some upcoming team workouts.

An injury to a projected starter before the season even begins is a huge blow for the Pacers. Indiana had multiple players miss extended time this past season and were hoping for better health in 2021-22 — both to improve as a team and get a better feel for how the team’s core fits together. “My goal for this last year was to be healthy and be able to look and figure out what this team needs for the future,” Pacers President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard said in May. “We just didn’t see [the team] together.”

Caris LeVert, who the blue and gold traded for in January of 2020, has never played with Warren. Reserve forward Oshae Brissett started 16 times for Indiana last season, yet he has never shared the court with Warren. Newcomers Chris Duarte, Torrey Craig, and Isaiah Jackson won’t be running mates with the Pacers starting small forward until he returns from injury. The NC State product missing time will delay Pritchard’s desire of seeing the team together.

“Pacer fans. Just wanted you to hear this straight from me. I’m making sure I do this rehab process right so that I can get back on the court as soon as I can and be the best that I can,” Warren tweeted after his injury update was released.

Another delay in seeing the Pacers starting five together will prolong a continued frustration for the Indiana front office. But that is a secondary detriment when compared to the loss of simply not having Warren’s production. The 28-year old was a 20 points per game scorer in his last fully healthy season for the Pacers and evolved into a useful and effective defender. That’s a lot of scoring, and defense, to lose.

Last season, Indiana deployed various starting lineups with Warren on the shelf. Justin Holiday was a part of the opening five 52 times for the blue and gold last season; his ability to knock down threes and play quality team defense makes him a fit with any unit. He could start again if Warren is sidelined to begin the season. Doug McDermott also started a handful of games in Warren’s absence during the 2020-21 campaign, but he joined the San Antonio Spurs this offseason, so new Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle cannot go to that as an option with Warren out.

Rookie wing Chris Duarte, who the Pacers drafted with the 13th overall pick in the draft just a few weeks ago, could be in line for a bigger role with Warren on the shelf. As could Torrey Craig, who Indiana inked to a two-year deal in August. The Pacers do have other forwards that can soak up minutes while Warren heals.

But none of them can match his contributions, especially offensively. “Getting your top scorer injured for the rest of the year — it’s almost insurmountable,” Pritchard said of losing the seven-year veteran last season. That sentiment will likely be true again to open the coming season.

A clear timeline for Warren’s return has not been provided, the Pacers’ statement simply states he is out “indefinitely.” The amount of time he misses may play a huge role in how successful Indiana is able to be next season — the team has a brutally hard schedule for the first month or so, and the more of that span Warren misses, the worse things could go for the Pacers. The team is 45-26 (63.4 win percentage) when he plays during the last two campaigns and 34-40 (45.9 win percentage) when he doesn’t. His impact on winning is massive.

“T.J. Warren has been scoring his whole life,” former Pacers star Victor Oladipo exclaimed in 2020. “[He] was born to get buckets.”

Other wings and forward can fill the playing time hole that Warren’s updated injury timeline creates, but the scoring burden will need to be taken on by others. LeVert, who averaged nearly 21 points per game for the Pacers last season playing without Warren, and Brogdon will likely receive more touches and will have to find a way to put up points until Warren returns. But replacing a 20 point scorer is hard, as Pritchard noted.

The Pacers will be tasked with doing exactly that, at least for some time. With some of the team already in Indiana and many others set to descend upon downtown Indianapolis soon, as Brogdon noted, the blue and gold will be without Warren as they get back into the swing of things. The amount of time the talented wing misses will have a massive bearing on the Indiana Pacers’ season, and the team will hope that this setback is extremely minor. If not, the team will need to pivot to other strategies on the wing — and other players will need to step up.

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