Chris Duarte, Justin Holiday
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Holiday Taking Duarte Under His Wing

by Brendan Rourke Contributor

An NBA player's journey is anything but an easy cruise along a straight and open road. Instead, it ends up a roller coaster filled with ups and downs that only veterans understand later in their careers. For the Pacers, one such veteran is Justin Holiday.

Holiday has seen a lot of NBA basketball — 523 games to be exact. To date, he has played in 248 consecutive games, earning an "iron man" moniker reserved for a select few. Through it all, the veteran Pacers wing has been asked to put on many faces. He has been asked both to start and provide a spark off the bench for several years, accepting the changes to his role with extreme professionalism.

In contrast, for a lottery pick like Chris Duarte, the thought of starting every game might appear normal. After all, he started in 54 appearances during his two-year stint at Oregon and even his first 14 NBA games. He played as impressive as any rookie after tallying double figures in nine of his first 11 contests. He finished with no fewer than 12 over his first nine games. His presence felt surprisingly smooth. His poise, calm.

But then came his first road bump — a six-point outing on 2-of-9 shooting against the Denver Nuggets on Nov. 10. The altitude appeared to affect the rookie at times. He was limited to 21:10 of playing time — the shortest over his first 14 games.

He bounced back slightly the following night against the Jazz with 11 points. Yet something still appeared off. A few days later, Rick Carlisle revealed he had been playing through a shoulder injury he suffered after attempting a dunk against the San Antonio Spurs on Nov. 1. He then muscled through a contest against the 76ers before sitting out the next two games.

After finishing with six points in 13:33 of playing time against the Hornets in his return to the starting lineup Carlisle made a switch. The veteran coach has leaned on Holiday to start in his place ever since.

That's when Holiday stepped in and gave the rookie some advice.

"Now, I'm a little older, I've played in this league a while," Holiday said after Monday's contest against the Bulls. "Starting and not starting doesn't matter to me. But I do remember when I was his age, and it did."

"I know the mentality (Duarte) has. He's put a lot of work in. He's a great player. (He's) one of our top scorers and will be a starter in this league. It's just sometimes, on certain teams, what that role is for you — or how it works for you — sometimes it looks a little different than how you want it to be."

For Duarte, a bench role may be a bit of a shock to the system. But Holiday is doing his best to make sure the rookie relaxes his mind and accepts his role until the time is right again to start.

"It's hard," Holiday admitted. "When you're young, you focus a lot on being the starter and doing stuff like that. I'm just trying to give him a different sight of how he can still help. He's still just as valuable even though he doesn't have that starting role."

It appeared as if Duarte accepted his role without hesitation as well. After Monday's game, Duarte said Carlisle talked to him about coming off the bench. His response echoed Holiday's insight.

"Coach talked to me about coming off the bench," Duarte said. "I told him I'll do anything you ask me to do. If that's what's going to help the team win games, then I'll do it."

Two days later, Duarte finished with 17 points off the bench against LeBron James and the Lakers. His starting status did not matter one bit after drilling a three through contact with 6.0 seconds remaining to force overtime. Although the Lakers walked away with a win, Duarte illustrated Holiday's words stuck with him. It was yet another sign of growth and maturity. After the game, both Russell Westbrook and James provided their thoughts. Westbrook said he was going to be a "big-time scorer in this league."

"Indy got a good one," James added afterward.

Holiday isn't the only Pacer helping Duarte. Malcolm Brogdon has offered his wisdom as well. In several press conferences, the sixth-year guard has pointed out Duarte's penchant for asking questions during practice. It is as if he wants soak up every piece of information like a sponge.

Perhaps that comes with the territory of entering the league as a 24-year-old — a rarity by today's standards. In comparison, Indiana just played a Raptors team featuring a 22-year old Gary Trent Jr, who was playing in his 154th career game.

Nonetheless, there is little doubt that Duarte has the talents to become a regular starter for Indiana in the future. It just boils down to the perfect time to make the switch. If he follows the advice of the veterans around him, the Pacers could have a future superstar on their hands.

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