Unlike their opponent on Friday night at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, the Indiana Pacers have an abundance of options when it comes to the wing position. Their roster features respected veteran swingmen such as T.J. Warren, Justin Holiday, Torrey Craig and Jeremy Lamb, as well as the recovering Caris LeVert.
But head coach Rick Carlisle elected to try something different in Indiana’s second game of the preseason, starting rookie Chris Duarte at the 2 and playing him at the 3 in some instances. Following a 15-point, 5 assist showing in his pro debut on the road against the New York Knicks, the Pacers’ lottery pick put his headiness on display in his second contest.
“Duarte did a very good job starting [in] his first NBA start,” Carlisle said after the team’s 109-100 preseason win in Cleveland. “I just thought shuffling the deck made some sense [for the starting lineup]. In practice, we changed up all three teams we were playing with. We had Isaiah Jackson playing some 4 defensively. We’ve got to develop these guys, we’ve got to find out as much as we can as a coaching staff and keep pushing from there.”
Duarte’s high awareness level is apparent, particularly as a ball-handler with a screener. Instead of forcing the issue, he's patient enough to let the action develop, keeping his dribble before making a decision based on how the defense plays it. Duarte is also finding his areas off the ball to spot up and shoot. Though he wasn’t successful on three triple tries on Friday, those are going to likely fall more often than not with the way Malcolm Brogdon and Domantas Sabonis put pressure on the opposition.
Possessing NBA size at 6-foot-6, the Oregon product was going directly at the Cleveland Cavaliers’ smaller backcourt, taking the ball to the cup and pulling up when the situation was in his favor. He even caught the Cavs sleeping twice in the third quarter and found a couple of easy cleanups on the offensive glass.
“I’m a huge fan of Chris,” Brogdon said. “I’m a huge fan of how he carries himself, his poise, his maturity, and then, his versatility. Offensively, defensively — he plays both ends. The most impressive thing about him is he’s a top lottery pick — a guy with a lot of clout, a lot of attention coming in — but he wants to learn. He’s soaking everything up, he’s asking questions, he listens. He’s gonna be really, really good.”
The 24-year-old finished the night with 11 points, 3 rebounds and 2 assists in 20 minutes. It’s not the sexiest stat line in the world; however, it should be noted just how natural Duarte looked out there on the floor with his All-Star teammates (and against competition) boasting years of experience ahead of his own.
Having played at the JUCO level for numerous seasons prior to joining Dana Altman and the Ducks for two years, it’s obvious Duarte could be bringing a wealth of knowledge and polish that his peers in the 2021 NBA Draft class may not have. Whether he gets the opportunity to continue showing that, or if he has to wait his turn, will be up to the Pacers.
Age be damned, especially since the team that drafted him is trying to win now. Considering the endorsements he’s received only weeks into training camp, it seems Duarte might force Indiana’s hand.