NBA Rookie of the Year ‘Making the Case’: Chris Duarte’s Experience and Shooting Stroke Will Help Indiana Pacers Back to Top of Eastern Conference

Note: This is part three of a five-part series detailing how five different rookies could win the NBA’s Rookie of the Year Award.

Chris Duarte started his college basketball career at Northwest Florida State. He transferred to Oregon for his final two seasons before being selected with the 13th overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft by the Indiana Pacers.

He wasn’t a 5-star recruit coming out of high school like a lot of NBA lottery picks. He wasn’t a one-and-done prospect. He doesn’t have the pedigree of Cade Cunningham or Jalen Green or Jalen Suggs.

What Duarte brings to the NBA is experience, size, athleticism, defense, and shooting. Those traits point to him being a productive NBA player for a decade-plus.

He may not be the flashy pick to win Rookie of the Year, but there’s a good chance his strengths translate to the league immediately in his rookie season, which gives him an overlooked candidacy for the award.

The Indiana Pacers took Chris Duarte No. 13 overall

Indiana Pacers rookie Chris Duarte goes for a reverse layup.
Rookie Chris Duarte of the Indiana Pacers shoots the ball against the Memphis Grizzlies. | Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The 6-foot-6 shooting guard played two seasons in Eugene. He started every game he played with the Ducks and led his team to a Pac-12 Conference Championship and a No. 7 seed in the NCAA Tournament his senior year.

Duarte averaged 17.1 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 1.9 blocks in 2020-21 on shooting splits of 53.2/42.4/81.0.

He was named First-Team All-Pac-12 and was also named to the Pac-12 All-Defense First-Team.

He also won the Jerry West Award as the conference’s best shooting guard.

Oregon advanced to the Sweet 16 in the 2021 NCAA Tournament. In a second-round upset of second-seeded Iowa, Duarte scored 23 points and added seven assists. In the Ducks’ loss to USC, he had 21 points, six assists, and five rebounds.

Duarte’s Rookie of the Year case: Shooting and Maturity

The lanky shooting guard’s case rests on his elite shooting ability. Duarte is an excellent spot-up shooter, but he can also run off screens, relocate, and knock down jumpers on the move. He’s not going to wow anyone with his shot creation, but he’s long enough and has a good enough stroke that he’s capable of making shots off the dribble.

That 6-6 size and his intelligence also allows him to maneuver around the paint and finish near the basket in traffic.

The Pac-12 leader in steals last year does have a bit of sneaky athleticism though, and between that and his length, was one of the best defenders in college basketball. He’s almost like an NFL defensive back with the way that he reads and can snuff out passes — that’s how he averaged almost two steals a game in college last year.

Duarte projects as a strong, solid, all-around NBA role player with elite shooting ability.

The knocks on the 23-year-old are his age, questionable upside, and playmaking skills. But on an Indiana team that is almost always a playoff contender, those deficiencies won’t be in the spotlight.

What would a Rookie of the Year campaign look like for Duarte?

Because of his experience, IQ, and skill set, Duarte is going to get a decent amount of minutes in 2021-22.

Justin Holiday is a similar player — he played in 72 games last year and averaged 10.5 points on 38.2% shooting from three. Malcolm Brogdon is also an entrenched starter for the Pacers. The versatile guard shot 38.8% from deep and averaged a team-high 21.2 points and provided nearly six assists per game.

The rest of Indiana’s guard rotation has been torn apart by injuries early in the year, allowing Duarte an opening.

Caris LeVert — who would be the team’s starting shooting guard and featured offensive player — will miss the first handful of games. He also has a deep injury history during his time in the league. Brogdon, Holiday, and the team’s best scorer, TJ Warren, will also miss the beginning of the year.

That leaves Duarte as one of the best (and healthiest) options at shooting guard, at least for now. He should be on the court quite a bit for at least the first few weeks, allowing new Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle to see what the rookie has to offer.

Duarte played the second-most minutes on the team during the exhibition season and was second in scoring at 13.8 points per game.

A Rookie of the Year season for Duarte wouldn’t have to be explosive or flashy — he’s similar in many ways to Brogdon, won the award as a second-round pick with the Milwaukee Bucks. Somewhere around 15 points per game with good 3-point shooting numbers, which the former Duck has proved he is capable of — will put him in the conversation.

Duarte won’t be flashy. He won’t have the highlight-reel plays that Cunningham or Green will. But he’s in a perfect spot to contribute to winning and show off the skills that made him a lottery pick despite the NBA shying away from older players.

The Case for Cade Cunningham

The Case for Jalen Green

Monday: The Case for James Bouknight

Tuesday: The Case for Josh Giddey

All statistics courtesy of Sports Reference.

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