Years Pro: 1
Status: Entering the second year of rookie contract.
Key Stats: Appeared in 55 games this season for the Pacers (39 starts). Averaged 13.1 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 2.1 assists. Finished in double figures 40 times this season. Shot 43.2 percent from the field and 36.9 percent from 3-point range.
The 13th pick in the NBA Draft has several notable names linked to it. From Hall-of-Famer Kobe Bryant to some of today's stars (Zach LaVine, Devin Booker, and Donovan Mitchell to name a few), several NBA teams have found success selecting with the so-called unlucky number. In the 2021 NBA Draft, the Pacers had the privilege of picking there, and the organization eyed 24-year-old shooting guard Chris Duarte from the University of Oregon.
Duarte had several teams show interest after the college basketball season and during predraft workouts. However, a few squads overlooked him for one reason — his age. Duarte moved from the Dominican Republic to New York for his last two years of high school basketball. Then, he spent two years at Northwest Florida State — a junior college — before transferring to Oregon. His decision to stay for both years of eligibility separated him from today's norm of high-level athletes leaving college early. But it also earned him the 2021 Jerry West Award as the nation's top shooting guard and AP Pac-12 Player of the Year honors.
Additionally, Duarte used his four years of college basketball to his benefit. Throughout the season, Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle frequently praised the 24-year-old for his maturity. Veteran guard Malcolm Brogdon also commended Duarte repeatedly for always asking questions at practice, hoping to soak up every piece of information he could during his first go-around in the league.
The guard could not have asked for a better start to his career, as he dropped 27 points on 9-of-15 shooting, including six threes, in his first 32:42 of NBA action in the Pacers' season opener. The performance set the Pacers' NBA franchise record for most points in a rookie debut. Both his scoring total and the number of triples remain career highs today. Yet, the Blue & Gold know he has room to grow from there.
PHOTO GALLERY: Chris Duarte's 2021-22 Season in Photos »
Proving to be both a solid scorer and an apt defender, Duarte continued his success by finishing in double figures for a streak of nine games. He also snagged a steal in 10 of his first 11 contests. In game 10, Portland held him to just nine points. However, showing his mental toughness, he played the next game against his now-teammates, Tyrese Haliburton and Buddy Hield, and dropped 15 points on 6-of-12 shooting in 31:20. The streak of games had the guard in early talks to contend in the NBA's Kia Rookie of the Year race.
Perhaps the highlight of Duarte's year came just before Thanksgiving Day on November 24. Playing against arguably the biggest star in the league, LeBron James, Duarte drilled a last-second baseline triple through contact to send the game into overtime. That game also started a run of eight double-figure games, including a 23-point performance on 9-of-11 shooting against the Knicks on Dec. 8.
On Dec. 30, Duarte entered the league's health and safety protocols, and his return to conditioning forced him to miss five of the next six games. However, he appeared never to miss a beat. The guard posted double figures in 12 of his next 16 games, including four 20-plus point performances. He even tied his career-high of 27 points when playing against Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors on Jan. 20.
Photo Credit: Matt Kryger
But as with much of the Pacers' roster, the injury bug finally bit him. On Feb. 13 versus the Minnesota Timberwolves, the 13th overall pick exited the match after just four minutes. Later, the Pacers staff revealed he suffered a left toe sprain. The injury officially took him out of the Rookie of the Year race, as he appeared in just five of the Pacers' final 22 games of the season.
Despite playing only 55 games, some of the game's greats were quick to praise Duarte and his feats during his first year. After witnessing his game-tying shot against the Lakers, James remarked that Duarte was "big time" and "very poised." He ended his postgame conference with, "Indy got a good one."
Two-time NBA Finals MVP and 12-time All-Star Kevin Durant also complimented Duarte's play during the season. The Nets forward hopped on an NBA League Pass broadcast and said he "liked him a lot."
"He's quick off the catch, can shoot the midrange off the dribbles too. He's got good size," Durant added.
Durant also apparently doubled down on his remarks later, according to Duarte. During the rookie's final media availability, he said Durant spoke to him after the Pacers wrapped up their season versus the Nets.
"He told me how good I did this season," Duarte said. "He said, 'I really like what you did this season. Keep going.'"
Duarte concluded his remarks by saying "stuff like that" are moments he would never forget moving forward.
"They are the best players in the world," he said. "(For them to) say good things about you — that makes you feel different."
Perhaps the Pacers found a bit of luck with the unlucky number — just as several teams have before.
2022 Pacers.com Player Review Schedule
April 18: Tyrese Haliburton
April 19: Buddy Hield
April 20: Chris Duarte
April 21: Isaiah Jackson
April 22: Oshae Brissett
April 23: Malcolm Brogdon
April 24: Goga Bitadze
April 25: Myles Turner
April 26: Duane Washington Jr.
April 27: T.J. McConnell
April 28: Jalen Smith
April 29: Lance Stephenson
April 30: Terry Taylor