Indiana Pacers: Chris Duarte, worthy gambles, and shooting for the stars

Indiana Pacers, Chris Duarte - Credit: Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports
Indiana Pacers, Chris Duarte - Credit: Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports /

The Indiana Pacers can be deemed as the quintessential “play it safe” organization. Known for their tank-less approach and fleeting, yet regret-filled title windows, the Blue and Gold has never been one to go full throttle on any direction they’re taking.

That’s why many fans and pundits alike, for all the local goodness and joy that Indiana’s persistence on plain winning provides, have called for the Pacers brass to move with more conviction. After last season’s uninspiring finish, there were some talks about the front office entering into a rebuild or plucking for a superstar—neither happened, even on the margins.

With the expected ascent of yet another foray into continuity, many expected Indiana to go big in the 2021 NBA Draft for a modicum of gamble. As Indy vacillated in between long-term projects with sky-high ceilings, however, the front office ultimately stayed true to its course, nabbing a 24-year old rookie in Chris Duarte with their lone lottery selection, which was met with mixed reactions—some of encouragement, many of derision.

The Indiana Pacers may have struck gold with rookie Chris Duarte

However, Duarte quickly proved that he is more than just an old rookie with a limited ceiling. Despite being on a veteran team, the Oregon standout didn’t fail to assert himself in the limelight. With many of the Indiana Pacers’ core players still shelved with injuries of their own, Duarte made his case that he could be one not to taken only as a rotation piece, but a building block.

Okay, I may be overreacting and being overtly blinded by Chris Duarte’s impressive chops on the NBA hardwood—well, preseason hardwood—but make no mistake, it is not a bold thing to say that he has been the best rookie at this preliminary juncture.

Duarte probably won’t make the headlines much, save for if those local Circle City D-Book comparisons hold true (watch out), but the verve of his play, despite coming in at a not-so-young age, truly has the legitimate makings of a draft pick that could go down as a tremendous steal down the road.

From his aesthetically pleasing scoring moves, heady playmaking, and sneaky good defense, Duarte may already be a shoo-in for an All-Rookie team. While a full strength Indiana Pacers squad may push him behind the pecking order, no one’s penciling a healthy Blue and Gold in as an utmost certainty. With Caris LeVert and TJ Warren already shelved with injuries, Duarte will have a lot of leeway to force the coaching staff to shoot for the stars and gamble with him as an alpha on the court to kick things off.

If it pays off, Chris Duarte’s ascent may prompt the front office to make a tough decision on its existing core. With Warren entering the final year of his contract, and the team’s starting backcourt giving the team a lot of options to execute a trade for a hot commodity, subtle, yet daunting questions are starting to loom in the Circle City.

Call me a harbinger of premature takes, but the Indiana Pacers’ gamble on Chris Duarte could go down as a worthy one, a shot for the stars that while unprecedented and hinged on a win-now direction, could throw light on the franchise’s door that is in want of a much-needed zest if the rookie’s initial brilliance pans out well.

Next. The Pacers' depth may not be as sterling as it seems. dark