T.J. Warren and the Pacers’ problem moving forward

Pacers free agent T.J. Warren has agreed to a deal with the Brooklyn Nets according to multiple media reports.

Warren who suffered multiple stress fractures in his foot after his unforgettable breakout in the NBA Bubble played just four games for the Pacers over his last two seasons with the team including none all of last year.

Warren’s absence amplified the biggest weakness of the team’s roster makeup. They simply haven’t had any forwards that can play both small and power forward at a high level the last few seasons. Big wings have been torching this group since Warren went out and never returned. Oshae Brissett was a huge addition for this team late in the lost Bjorkgren season simply because he was the right body size. It was a bonus that he was actually good at basketball and added things on both ends.

It’s one reason why guys like Nicolas Batum, Mikal Bridges, Gordon Hayward, O.G. Anunoby, and so many other large wings have had huge nights against the Pacers. A decent gambling strategy over the past two seasons probably would have been betting the over for individual points for whoever their opponent had as a big wing that night.

As the Pacers roster stands now, they still haven’t been able to address this problem. Most players on the team fall in three positional categories: point guards, small wings that are more shooting guard than small forward, and bigs that are more centers than power forward.

  • Point guards: Tyrese Haliburton, T.J. McConnell, Andrew Nembhard
  • Small wings: Chris Duarte, Bennedict Mathurin, Buddy Hield, Aaron Nesmith, Duane Washington Jr.
  • Bigs: Myles Turner, Isaiah Jackson, Jalen Smith, Goga Bitadze, Daniel Theis

The only players that are likely to make the roster that don’t fit in these categories are Brissett, Terry Taylor (who played a lot as an undersized center last year), and second-round pick Kendall Brown. All of them are probably best suited to play the 4.

Kessler Edwards is one guy the Pacers should be rushing to get in the building to fill that combo forward hole on the roster. As a rookie with the Nets last season in 20 minutes per game, Edwards averaged 6 points while shooting 35% from deep. He’s a capable player at both ends and makes perfect sense for a rebuilding Pacers team at 21 years old. Best of all he’s 6’8”. Isaiah Roby and Yuta Watanabe are other reasonable free agent targets to consider out of what is available.

These large wings are hard to find so the rumors leading up to draft night of the Pacers wanting to trade up for Keegan Murray instead of Jaden Ivey at 4 do make some sense in that regard. It also makes the decision to exercise Brissett’s team option this off-season instead of making him a RFA and re-signing him to a long-term deal all the more curious. The Rockets just did this with Jae’Sean Tate.

Letting the 28-year-old Warren go now that the team is in a full rebuild is probably fine but in order to eventually move forward, the Pacers are going to need some forwards.

Quickly following that news was that Edmond Sumner would be joining Warren in Brooklyn. Sumner missed last season with a torn Achilles. Sumner’s point of attack and perimeter defense is another thing that the Pacers have been lacking in his absence but with a gluttony of guards, it was going to be hard to bring him back.

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