T.J. Warren’s underrated appeal to the Boston Celtics

Boston Celtics free agent target, T.J. Warren. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Boston Celtics free agent target, T.J. Warren. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

For the second consecutive year, the Boston Celtics have taken an interest in scoring wing T.J. Warren, as The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported that the team plans to bring Warren in for a workout on August 22. Last year Jake Fischer reported that the Celtics were considering Warren, but they picked Danilo Gallinari over him.

What’s crazier is that even then, that wasn’t the first time the Celtics vied for his services. Way back when during the post-bubble period in 2020, the Celtics wanted Warren in a potential Gordon Hayward sign-and-trade package, as reported by The Boston Globe’s Gary Washburn.

So clearly, Warren has never completely fallen off the Celtics’ radar. That’s because his upside is still tantalizing. It’s rare to find wing scorers who could average 19.8 points per game while shooting 53.6% from the field and 40.3% from beyond the arc like Warren did during the 2019-20 season, per NBA.com. Alas, as the sun has begun to set on the offseason, Warren has remained a free agent, and it’s not hard to see why.

After missing nearly two seasons from stress fractures in his left foot, Warren didn’t have the worst season with the Brooklyn Nets and Phoenix Suns, averaging 7.5 points while shooting 48.9% from the field and 32.8% from three, per Basketball-Reference. However, his numbers substantially subsided in his second tenure with the Suns, which only worsened in the playoffs.

A glass-half-full point of view would suggest that perhaps Warren needed a year to shake off the rust and that, with more reps, he may make more strides to resemble the player he once was. Sadly, if teams truly believed that was a possibility, he wouldn’t still be a free agent. Warren’s appeal of returning to the player he was for pennies on the dollar sounds enticing, but because the odds are against him finding that level again, Warren does not fascinate teams much these days.

But in the Celtics’ case, Warren’s upside may not stem from how well he has produced in the past but because of his familiarity with the reigning Sixth Man of the Year and former Pacers teammate, Malcolm Brogdon.

Brogdon and Warren only played one season together for the Pacers, but they were two of the three highest scorers on a Pacers team that was on pace to win 50 games in the COVID-shortened season. Better yet, they had the third-highest minutes played among two-man lineups (1388) on that squad despite only playing 50 out of 73 games together. They also had a two-man net rating of plus-4.4, per NBA.com, so they were clearly a duo that the Pacers trusted.

Now obviously, the Celtics wouldn’t give them the same roles that the Pacers did back then, but the fact that the Pacers did better when those two shared the court shows that they knew how to thrive off one another. Having familiarity and success with teammates in the past could absolutely resurface should they team up again. Even if Warren isn’t quite the bucket-getter he once was, his chemistry with Brogdon could give the Celtics’ second unit a boost.

There’s also more to it than that. The Pacers most played three-man lineup that season happened to be Warren, Brogdon, and Myles Turner, who played 970 minutes together. They also had a positive net rating of plus-4.0, per NBA.com. This demonstrates that they played well while having a big who can stretch the floor with them.

Now, of course, Turner is his own player and has nothing to do with how the Celtics will fare, but Turner is one of the NBA’s more well-known stretch bigs. That season, Turner shot 34.4% from three on four attempts a game. If Brogdon and Warren can produce positive results from playing with a stretch big, imagine having two of them on his team who shot better last season than Turner did that season.

How T.J. Warren fits in the Boston Celtics frontcourt

The Boston Celtics have two of the league’s most efficient stretch bigs in the league, as Al Horford’s 44.6% shooting from distance and Kristaps Porzingis’ 38.5% shooting from distance made them among the top 65 3-point shooters in the league and top 10 among those designated as power forwards and centers, per ESPN. The Celtics will have at least one of them on the floor for most of the games that they play.

Pairing Warren with a teammate he had chemistry with, along with a rare breed of frontcourt player who stretches the floor, has proven to be an effective strategy in the past. The obvious disclaimer is that this is data from three years ago, so, of course, a massive grain of salt must be taken here.

At the same time, the Boston Celtics are bargain bin shopping right now, much like everybody else is at this time of year. They’re looking for the most bang for the little buck that’s left in free agency. Warren may not be the player he was, but he showed last season that he’s still got some game left. With the Celtics’ limited options and Warren’s previous success playing with Brogdon and bigs who can stretch the floor, he has a case to give them the biggest payoff out of everyone whom they can afford in free agency.