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1 pleasant surprise who stood out for Pacers during 2021 NBA training camp

Domantas Sabonis, Chris Duarte, Pacers

The Indiana Pacers will be looking to come back into the playoffs this season. After a fruitful decade with only one missed postseason, the Pacers had a down year. Injuries to important players and midseason trades definitely affected them in a major way. Thus, the expectation was that they will be able to come back this season, healthy and ready to play in the playoffs again.

Unfortunately for the Pacers, one of their best players is injured again. Caris LeVert hurt his back during training camp and it is now clear that he will miss the start of the season. Regardless, coach Rick Carlisle will be happy with a few of his guys and their performances in the preseason games. Indiana played the New York Knicks and the Cleveland Cavaliers so far. The Knicks got the better of them, 125-104, while the Pacers beat the Cavs, 109-100.

With a lot of their standard rotation guys playing, it was difficult for the younger players to really assert themselves. One did manage to do exactly that and he might be the pleasant surprise out of training camp for the Pacers – Chris Duarte.

Pacers training camp surprise

Chris Duarte has a very interesting story. He is actually 24-years-old, something that is not seen much when it comes to modern drafts. Youngsters usually enter the league when they are done with their first season in college. However, Duarte did not have it easy. Firstly, he started with Northwest Florida State College in the NJCAA. Only after two years here did he transfer to Oregon in the NCAA, where he led them to the Sweet Sixteen in his last college year.

Even though his play at college earned him many awards, such as the Jerry West Award for best shooting guard at the collegiate level, he was still older than most of the players who get selected this early in the draft. However, the Indiana Pacers had the 13th selection and did not hesitate to bring Duarte in. It was unclear what role exactly was made out for the rookie.

The Pacers already had Malcolm Brogdon, TJ McConnell, Caris LeVert, and Jeremy Lamb to fill the guard spots. Of course, Duarte can be there and wait for his chance, but with a thinner rotation elsewhere in the squad, serious questions were raised. However, with the injury of LeVert, it was clear that Duarte was to step up.

In the two games played, Duarte has scored 15 points in 20 minutes against the Knicks, off the bench, and 11 points in the same time against the Cavaliers. He was able to get Lamb out of the lineup, although it is likely that Duarte will be on the bench come game time versus the Charlotte Hornets when the season starts for the Pacers on the 20th of October.

Duarte still has two more opportunities to earn his minutes in the NBA. The Pacers are yet to play the Memphis Grizzlies and the Cavs again, and since LeVert is out, he will have a great chance. While most believe that Lamb will be starting when the season starts, Duarte can be that difference-maker off the bench, a role similar to what exactly LeVert had in Brooklyn.

Coach Carlisle also did not hold back when complimenting the young guard. After Duarte’s first game, as USA Today reports, Carlisle was mentioning how he can help the Pacers offensively. Carlisle stated:

He did a lot of good things. He made some mistakes, too, that are correctable mistakes but when you’re in your first NBA game, these kinds of things can certainly happen. Overall, he is a fearless guy and I loved the way he played.

Getting this kind of praise going into the season from a coach with the resume of Carlisle must have done wonders for Duarte’s confidence. The young shooting guard does not lack it, of course, because his offensive skills were completely on display in that game versus the Knicks. Regardless of his amount of confidence, comments like these confirm the notion that Carlisle clearly sees Duarte as an important part of the Pacers’ rotation coming into the season.

While it is clear to everyone that the Pacers will miss LeVert, the offensive output by Lamb and Duarte is very good and might be a key part of the transition until LeVert is ready to play. It is still unclear when exactly will he return, but it is important that the Pacers are ready to fight for the postseason even without him. The pleasant surprise for the fanbase and an optimistic sign is definitely the game of Chris Duarte.