Indiana Pacers: Why Chris Duarte is a victim of circumstance

Chris Duarte, Indiana Pacers (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
Chris Duarte, Indiana Pacers (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) /

With the Indiana Pacers starting off their 2022-23 campaign on a surprisingly positive note, there isn’t a lot to not like about the franchise’s current direction. Indy’s instant rebuild — one unforeseen by even the most devout fans of the Blue and Gold — is still not a perfect design by any means, but most signs point to the team looking like it made the right choice by veering away from the crestfallen norms of tanking.

However, an instant rebuild is still a rebuild. Timelines are altered, and futures become more temperamental than before. That is particularly true for second-year wing Chris Duarte who, after an impressive rookie season, suddenly looks like an afterthought in the team’s immediate and long-term plans.

Chris Duarte could very well be a victim of circumstance for the Indiana Pacers

It’s easy to make an argument for Duarte’s struggles this season as a mere case of failing to find a groove amid role inconsistency and post-injury rust. Honestly, those are the most manifest reasons for his extraordinarily stark sophomore slump. Going deeper than the surface level, however, slowly unveils a bleak image — that of circumstance and everything beyond his control in the grand scheme of things.

Indiana approached the 2021 NBA Draft looking to bolster a win-now roster definitely capable of making noise in the regular season — and with the help of better injury luck — possibly bursting in the postseason scene. Drafting a then-24-year-old rookie in Duarte, who filled a position of need and brought a much-needed skill set, made perfect sense. From that perspective, the Pacers nailed that selection, as he went on and made the All-Rookie Second Team despite the team heading straight to the lottery.

Interspersed between Duarte’s selection and his validating accolade, however, was a massive tonal shift on Indiana’s part. The Domantas Sabonis-Tyrese Haliburton blockbuster swap instantly restructured the Pacers’ entire trajectory on all fronts. Still, Duarte’s game packed more than enough juice to shoehorn him even into the team’s next core.

Pundits were high on Duarte heading into Year 2, but the Pacers’ selection of Bennedict Mathurin immediately casted some cloud over the former’s standing as the resident gunner next to Haliburton for years to come. Coexistence was still in play though, as Rick Carlisle was still hellbent at the start on starting the sophomore despite recurring injuries and declining play.

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Unfortunately, save for a handful of good games, Duarte has been a total disappointment this season. A far from ideal role doesn’t help, but his outright lack of impact on most facets of the game when his shot isn’t falling — a recurring and very frequent theme — has made him borderline unplayable at times.

Fast forward to the midway point of the season, Indiana and Chris Duarte find themselves at crossroads. The Pacers have every reason to believe that he is far from an indispensable component of the team given their success even with him logging an insignificant role, but they also have enough reason to believe that Duarte can still be integral to their success moving forward.

However, it seems like the Pacers are starting to pump the brakes on their long-term outlook for Duarte. Reports are now surfacing about their willingness to make him available for trades as they look to improve on other areas of more pressing need. And with the team not being devoid of backcourt talent, Duarte’s time in Indiana may indeed be ticking at this juncture.

Chris Duarte’s well-documented struggles this season have also been caused by some self-inflicted wounds, but for the most part, time and circumstances haven’t been on his side. The Indiana Pacers may ultimately decide for a premature breakup, and all things considered, it may eventually be for the better.