The Pacers have to clarify Chris Duarte’s role once and for all

Chris Duarte - Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
Chris Duarte - Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports /

The Indiana Pacers have had a lot of positive and saucy storylines so far in the early portion of the 2022-23 NBA season. However, as is with all teams, there will always be some disappointments to kick things off, and that has been quietly true for the Blue and Gold.

Chris Duarte, who enjoyed a tremendous freshman campaign that netted him an All-Rookie Second Team nod, was widely expected to help lead the Pacers’ renewed youth movement coming into the season. That has not panned out though, as the second-year swingman has mightily struggled so far.

Averaging just 7.1 points in 19.1 minutes per outing on a putrid 33.3 percent shooting overall, including just 29.6 percent from three-point land, Duarte’s shot has been a far cry from his impressive rookie season. Confidence and recurring injuries aside, the most likely fix to mitigate this is not rocket science—the Pacers have to redefine his role.

The Indiana Pacers have to clarify Chris Duarte’s role to help him get past his early-season struggles

Duarte has started three out of the Pacers’ seven games so far, but the way he’s been utilized in that starting role gives off the impression that he was only a nominal member of the opening group. In those games that he started, the sophomore has been outright terrible, logging just six points per game, but more importantly, he’s been a massive minus in that role as in addition to his shooting woes, his defense has been pretty lacking against opening units.

Off the bench, Duarte has registered more points, but at the cost of even worse efficiency. Mathurin’s heavy usage has obviously affected his declining usage rate, but even in no-Mathurin lineups, he has fared just the same.

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Buddy Hield‘s impactful play as the designated sniper has also seemingly cannibalized Duarte’s role, even if their play styles are different. Possessions that had Duarte curling off screens to create his own shot last season have now been replaced by screen actions involving Hield to get him open three-point attempts. Big men who previously made it a point to set picks for Duarte in off-ball situations now exclusively screen only for the current ball-handler.

In essence, Duarte’s role has largely differed—and fluctuated—from the previous season. Still, having him work only as a standstill scorer isn’t gonna do anything to help him overcome his shooting woes. After all, he is a shot creator who needs plays designated for him so he can catch his rhythm.

Naturally, the Pacers could look into staggering his minutes with Mathurin so as to maximize both players’ shot creation. Otherwise, they may have to resort to personnel adjustments. Either way, Chris Duarte remains an integral part of Indiana’s future. But for now, redefining his role should take center stage.

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