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Preview: Suns prepare for Pacers, return of T.J. Warren

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Former Suns forward T.J. Warren makes his return to Phoenix with a very good Pacers squad.

Miami Heat v Indiana Pacers Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

What: Phoenix Suns (18-25) host the Indiana Pacers (28-16)

When: 7:00 p.m. AZ

Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena, Phoenix, AZ

Watch: Fox Sports Arizona

Listen: 98.7 FM


Probable Starters:

Suns - Ricky Rubio, Devin Booker, Kelly Oubre Jr., Dario Saric, Deandre Ayton

Pacers - Malcolm Brogdon, Jeremy Lamb, T.J. Warren, Domantas Sabonis, Myles Turner


Pacers

OffRtg = 109.5 (15th), DefRtg = 107.0 (10th), NetRtg = plus-2.5 (12th)

In the absence of Victor Oladipo, who won’t make his season debut until next week due to injury, T.J. Warren has been embraced by the Pacers and their fans. The former Phoenix Suns forward is averaging 17.8 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 1 steal per game on 51.0/37.5/82.4 shooting splits.

It’s fair to say through the first 40-plus game of the 2019-20 campaign that Warren needed this fresh start outside of Phoenix.

Stylistically not being a fit alongside Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton, especially after acquiring Kelly Oubre Jr. mid-season, Warren was jettisoned to Indiana where he’s now sharing the lead scorer role with Malcolm Brogdon and Domantas Sabonis. Within Indiana’s system, Warren is making more consistent efforts on defense regularly and even making the right pass during certain situations.

Once Oladipo returns to Indiana’s starting lineup, Warren will fall back to third or fourth option excelling at what he does best: puting the roundball in the hoop. And for the next few years, the Pacers have their core of Oladipo, Brogdon, Sabonis, Turner, and Warren locked in. Is it good enough to push through the top of the Eastern Conference? Who knows, but their impressive start without Oladipo has me thinking they could be a sneaky tough out once April and May roll around.

Speaking of offseason additions, Brogdon might qualify as one of the best this past July. The Pacers landed Brogdon via sign-and-trade with division rival Milwaukee for draft compensation. Brogdon is a beautiful fit alongside Oladipo as a menacing defense-first backcourt, and one has to wonder why the Suns never seemed too interested in his services.

Rubio was an obvious win for the Suns, but how would they look with Brogdon instead? I think they are a few games ahead of where they are now, as Brogdon has displayed he can steer the ship as a pass-first point guard who can handle scoring responsibilities as well. Brogdon is averaging 17.4 points and 7.4 assists per game on a 54.7 true shooting percentage while helping lead the Pacers to their surprising start.

For those interested, here’s a head-to-head comparison between Brogdon and Rubio via Basketball-Reference:

One final point on this Pacers team I wanted to hit on is their interesting dynamic between Sabonis and Turner. The two bigs are starting together for the long-term, which has done much better than expected thus far. Turner’s floor-spacing ability paired with Sabonis’s hyper-aggressive rebounding and inside scoring is holding up as a positive.

Once we get to the playoffs, will this jumbo big lineup hold up? A lot will depend on Oladipo and Brogdon as a compatible backcourt, but also the former Sun Warren providing a consistent scoring punch.

Suns

OffRtg = 110.2 (12th), DefRtg = 110.6 (19th), NetRtg = minus-0.4 (14th)

Since the Suns aren’t the talk of the NBA anymore after their hot start, Devin Booker’s historic season is flying way too far under the radar. For a guard, the efficiency clip Booker is currently posting makes me shake my head. It’s absurd the offensive talent Booker has become, and now the vital leap in efficiency is going down in Year 5.

Booker is averaging 26.8 points on a 63.2 (!!) true shooting percentage. During the 2000’s, here are the only other players to have a season putting up at least 26.8 points on a 63.2 TS%: LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, and Giannis Antetokounmpo. That’s four MVP winners, so Booker is on an unbelievable trajectory right now.

If the Suns are able to retool their second unit and add even more spacing around Booker next season, another leap should be expected. Booker has already become one of the best scorers in the NBA. Now, the next step is leading Phoenix back to the playoffs.

Meanwhile, Ayton looks the part of someone who was drafted No. 1 overall recently. Over the Suns’ last four games, Ayton is averaging 24.8 points, 14.5 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks. Those are Joel Embiid, Karl-Anthony Towns type numbers from the former Arizona Wildcat.

Add up Booker and Ayton’s production over the last week, then the Suns’ dynamic inside-out duo is amassing 60.8 points per game. Is that a possible glimpse into the future for this Suns squad? If so, it certainly changes the long-term fortunes.

Prediction

This should be a very fun matchup at Talking Stick Resort Arena on Wednesday night. Warren’s return to the Valley coupled with hot streaks going on right now from Booker and Ayton, lots of storylines are flowing from this one.

However, I’m going to go with the better team in this prediction. Adding up all Indiana has to offer outside of Warren — Brogdon, Sabonis, Turner, plus a solid bench — it’s just too much for Phoenix at this moment.

I won’t be surprised at all if this game remains close throughout, but the lean obviously has to go Indiana’s way on this when you see the win-loss columns of both teams.

Pacers 106, Suns 101