Nets’ TJ Warren is making up for lost time after a long layoff

After missing nearly all of the past two seasons with foot injuries, Nets’ TJ Warren is making up for lost time – even if his time on the floor is still limited.

The Nets are playing the big game with Warren, continuing to keep his minutes in check to make sure he can make an impact once the postseason begins. Meanwhile, he is 17 games into his first regular season action since the 2019-20 season and is making a strong impression when called upon.

“Every game, I feel more and more like myself,” Warren said Saturday after the Nets practiced in Brooklyn. “Two years is a long time, two calendar years of multiple foot problems. But I feel great. Mentally, I’m in a good place. I just want to keep getting better and help this team win as much as I can.”

Entering Sunday’s game against the Thunder at Barclays Center, Warren was averaging 10.5 points and 3.1 rebounds in 20.4 minutes per game off the bench.

Kyrie Irving #11 of the Brooklyn Nets is greeted by TJ Warren #1 of the Brooklyn Nets during the fourth quarter.
TJ Warren has given the Nets a huge boost since his return.
Charles Wenzelberg

Warren’s improved play made him an intriguing choice to take Kevin Durant’s spot in the starting lineup after the former MVP was sidelined with a sprained MCL. The Nets, however, opted to use Joe Harris at this point to help manage Warren’s workload. However, Warren was the first player off the bench Thursday, coming on eight minutes into the first quarter against the Celtics and scoring 20 points in 28 minutes.

“Just try to fit in where I fit in,” Warren said. “Try to be aggressive in the little outbursts I have. It’s not easy to play with minimal restrictions. You don’t want to think too much, or try to figure out, that the clock is ticking. It’s like a countdown for you. Just know that it’s a bigger goal and being healthy at the end of the year is that goal. So far so good. I feel great”.

Warren’s 28 minutes Thursday night were his second most of the season, behind only the 31:28 he played against the Hornets on New Year’s Eve. But even if Warren continues to play at a high level in his limited minutes, that won’t change the Nets’ plans for him.

Brooklyn Nets forward TJ Warren (1) drives around Golden State Warriors center James Wiseman (33) in the first half at Barclays Center, Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2022, in Brooklyn, New York.
The Nets are playing the big game with TJ Warren and hope he’ll be in top form once the postseason begins.
Corey Shipkin

“I have told him this message: This is my No. 1 goal, be healthy and go into the playoffs showing his skills to the rest of the world,” coach Zach Vaughn said. “That would be the kind of guiding light.

“I will be tempted from time to time [to push his minutes] if it rolls? Sure, any coach would be. But hopefully for his longevity, for the team, we’ll put him in a position to succeed all year.”

Warren played the first four games of the 2020-21 season before being sidelined and requiring surgery to repair a minor stress fracture in his left metatarsal (a leg bone near the ankle) that cost him the rest of the season. He then missed the entire 2021–22 season due to more foot problems.

Still, the Nets took a chance on Warren’s upside, signing him to a one-year, $2.6 million deal last offseason and then carefully grooming him before he made his season debut in December. 2 — almost two full years since he last played in an NBA game.

Warren said he’s still getting his legs back after the long layoff, but he thinks he’s playing better than people thought about a month and a half into games. However, he only maintains a midseason outlook with the Nets.

“It can get frustrating at times, trying to deal with the minutes restriction and everything else,” Warren said. “But we have to look at the bigger picture of being healthy at the end of the season.”