Indiana Pacers: Recent losses highlight Chris Duarte’s importance

Indiana Pacers, Chris Duarte - Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports
Indiana Pacers, Chris Duarte - Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports /

The Indiana Pacers seemed to be on their way to turning their season around with a 6-8 slate prior to their three-game road trip, but two consecutive losses to the Knicks and the Pistons, punctuated by stone cold shooting overall, pushed them back to a state of reeling.

What has been a much-improved scoring attack for the Blue and Gold to kick off November, however, has not carried over in the last two contests, with the Pacers averaging a putrid 86.5 points per game in that span. The common denominator? Look no further than the absence of rookie Chris Duarte, whose absence has been strongly felt by the squad on both ends of the floor.

With Duarte having one of the best debut seasons among his draft class, it’s not difficult to see why his absence has been a big contributing factor to the Pacers’ measly performance of late. It does not take a kindred basketball mind to infer that a team is probably not going to benefit from the absence of one of its best players. Even with existing options, you can only adapt so much.

The Indiana Pacers’ recent struggles show why Chris Duarte is an integral part of the team

Chris Duarte’s scoring output has decreased a tad in November after a scorching start to the season, but his 14.3 points per game, fourth-best on the Indiana Pacers roster, has been a source of comfort for the team. After all, the rookie has been the one so far to spell the team out of scoring droughts, as he is a legitimate bailout option who can create for himself in perilous situations.

Another area where Indiana sunk in their latest losses is in their three-point shooting. A 22.9 percent mark from rainbow country against New York and Detroit combined is simply a recipe for disaster, notwithstanding good defense against the opposing team.

This is where the absence of Duarte’s 40.3 percent shooting on triples, which ranks second among the team’s regulars, becomes even more glaring, as the Pacers are stuck with hit-and-miss shooters to carry the burden on the perimeter, like Justin Holiday and the struggling Caris LeVert.

You also miss his secondary playmaking. While he’s only averaged 2.1 dimes per outing so far, he can handle the ball in pick and rolls and make good reads, primarily on zipping passes to rolling big men or kicking it out to the perimeter even in traffic.

The lack of Duarte has also been felt on the defensive end, where pesky opposing guards have obliterated the team recently. Against New York, the troika of Kemba Walker, Derrick Rose, and Immanuel Quickley combined for 46 points in a slugfest. Against Detroit, Cory Joseph and Frank Jackson finished with 29 markers combined, a far cry from 14.8 season average as a duo off the bench.

Chris is far from perfect defensively, going under screens and being out of position at times, particularly against wings, but the rookie has been good at defending speedy guards.

Given how the Indiana Pacers have fared recently without their wonder rookie, the importance and brilliance of Chris Duarte has been more strongly underscored than before, cementing him as an integral part of the team moving forward.

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