Raise your hand if you thought T.J. Warren was going to be the first player to drop a 50-burger in the NBA bubble down in Orlando. Now put that hand down, you damn liar. Nobody saw this coming.
Warren has been absolutely scalding for Indiana and is a very large reason why the Pacers have gone 3-0 thus far in seeding games despite Domantas Sabonis' absence and Victor Oladipo still getting back into the swing of things. The question we all want to know is straightforward: what the hell did Warren do in his four months off?
In the first game that mattered since March, Warren scored 53 points against the Philadelphia 76ers. He did so on 9-of-12 shooting from deep and 20-of-29 overall from the floor. The next game, against the Washington Wizards, he faltered a bit from three (only hit 1-of-6) but continued his hot hand from closer to the basket, notching 34 on 14-of-26 shooting. Then, against the Orlando Magic on Tuesday, Warren didn't miss a shot in the first quarter and went on to put up a line of 32 points on 13-of-17 shooting. The latter two opponents are either missing their best players (Washington) or their best defender (Orlando) but the Sixers were fully healthy and have one of the best defenses in the league despite their relatively paltry record otherwise. That's legit.
This basically came out of nowhere. Warren has always been a talented scorer, but not like that. Before the restart, Warren had scored over 30 points in exactly five games out of a possible 68. In 2018-19, his last season in Phoenix, he topped the 30-point mark once all year. We saw a similar version of Warren the year prior when he scored 41 in a November 2017 matchup against Washington and scored over 30 in five games. But still! This is crazier than when Corey Brewer came out of nowhere and dropped 50 one spring for Minnesota.
Warren just has the stuff right now. It can happen, and it is happening. He may be inspired by Phoenix deciding to trade him for literally nothing over the offseason. Or maybe he just found the shooting stroke. It's unsustainable, of course; shooting above 50 percent from the floor with regularity is something even the best scorers in the league struggle to do. But Warren makes the Pacers' playoff chances much more interesting. He'd need to turn into Kobe Bryant for Indiana to make any sort of run, but it needs that pure scorer while Oladipo works his way back.
Things become especially interesting if Warren has found his touch from three. That's long been his issue as an NBA player. He can shoot the rock well from inside, but hasn't caught up to the league's 3-point shooting revolution quite yet. He's a career 40-percent shooter from beyond the arc, but averaged only 4.2 attempts per game in 2017-18, which was the highest of his career. Even in Indiana this year he only averaged 3.2. He has another two years left on his contract after this season concludes, so Indiana is invested in making sure he can become a viable floor-spacing option. The last few games in Orlando show that he can-- he just needs to start embracing the three all the time, rather than only when he's hot.
For now, though, let's enjoy the beauty of watching a professional basketball player feel like they can't miss. Because it's something to see.