Despite the Indiana Pacers heading to the lottery for the third straight year, virtually no one would tab this season as a failure for the franchise. In fact, the team will conclude its regular season campaign in high spirits due to many obvious reasons.
However, an outlier to that is Chris Duarte. Following an impressive rookie season, the sophomore guard declined in Year 2, primarily due to being marred with injuries and hence, inconsistencies left and right. Ultimately, the Oregon standout never truly found his groove, and has slowly become an afterthought in the Pacers’ rotation.
Heading to a pivotal offseason, are the Pacers brave enough to do the right thing about Duarte?
Are the Indiana Pacers ready to make a tough choice as regards Chris Duarte?
With Buddy Hield emerging as a indispensable part of the team’s current nucleus and Bennedict Mathurin and Andrew Nembhard poised to be foundational pieces for the franchise, Duarte’s footing on the team has vacillated a lot. That’s not even accounting for the surprisingly positive contributions that the Pacers has gotten from Jordan Nwora, who was acquired during the trade deadline.
In essence, Duarte’s cloak of invincibility from last season as a no-brainer part of the core is no more. Having been drafted under the team’s previous win-now design led by a much different group of players, the times have definitely changed. And his admittedly subpar play this season does little to give him staying power, if at all.
Now, should Indiana look into moving him? Yes, but probably not yet. With two more years on his rookie-scale contract, the Pacers still have time to wait for a 100 percent version of himself to make a legitimate bid to perform on the hardwood. However, this is where the problem lies. Is the team really willing or able to give him the platform to be as successful as projected?
Duarte’s shot creation, whose quirk has always been more suited for deliberate, half-court offenses, already pales in comparison to Mathurin’s fast-paced, transition-friendly outbursts. His three-point shooting has basically looked negligible next to Hield’s explosive perimeter acumen. His supposed length on the wings is inferior to Nwora’s bona fide lengthy frame.
The overlaps are crystal clear. As things currently stand, expecting Duarte to log a more significant role next season is a shout to the skies. No offense to both parties, but at this rate, it could benefit both parties if a breakup is imminent. For the Pacers, that means clearing a logjam and being more fit to chase a player of actual need. For Duarte, that means finding a deservedly bigger role elsewhere where he can bring an in-demand skillset.
Moving on from a lottery pick before Year 3 is conventionally a concessional design, but for the Indiana Pacers, as constructed, giving Chris Duarte the chance to seek greener pastures is starting to look like the best thing to do for both him and the franchise.
Do they have the guts to do that, though? We’ll have to see.