'An aggressive pro on the floor': Chris Duarte stays positive, then has career game in Brooklyn
Duarte, an integral piece, scored a career-high 30 points in Monday's game. Tyrese Haliburton shares how he had similar struggles. Plus, injury updates and why military members watched practice.
Tyrese Haliburton remembers being where Chris Duarte is, he remembers feeling how he Duarte now feels.
Haliburton scored two points in his first game last season, his second in the league. He scored eight points two games later. And in the second month of the season, he had as many games scoring eight points or less (7) as he did reaching double figures.
He even recorded a big doughnut, 0 points, 0 for 5 in 33 minutes against the 76ers.
Haliburton was a full-time starter for the Kings for the first time and it took him time to settle in and adapt.
“It’s different going into the second year because there’s more film (on you), knowing what to expect,” he said on Wednesday after practice, held at Gainbridge Fieldhouse. “Now you’re going into the year and feel like you have enough experience under your belt, but really you don’t have enough.”
This is all relevant because while Chris Duarte hasn’t been bad, he simply hasn’t had the start to his sophomore season that he had hoped. It took him five games to score in double figures, something he did just once in the first seven games.
He’s started in four games and come off the bench for the other four, depending on player availability. For now, he’s back in the starting lineup as Aaron Nesmith is bothered by another foot injury, this time to his right foot.
Finally on Monday, Duarte’s patience paid off.
He erupted for 30 points in a 116-109 loss in Brooklyn. He made 10-of-15 shots, including five 3s and five more free throws. Things were going so well that he even knocked in a pull-up 3 from 35 feet to end the third quarter. He’s right arm lingered in the air in celebration as he headed to the bench.
This felt different. This felt good. It was needed.
“We all know I had a slow start,” he acknowledged on Wednesday. “It happens, that’s part of basketball and part of the business. I think I’m doing a good job by staying positive, keeping my head up and waiting for my moment. On Monday in Brooklyn was my night.”
Duarte said he stayed positive, stayed with his routine and didn’t make too many changes. However, he noticed that he was leaning back some on his jumpshot so he made that tweak.
I wondered if he also was struggling to figure how his role. (Carlisle prefers ‘job description’ rather than ‘role.’ “It’s kind of a tired word,” he said.
Nonetheless, it’s important that each player (and coach) understands their job description and embraces it each game. It’s Haliburton’s show now, lottery pick Bennedict Mathurin is the fascinating rookie who has impressed everyone and Buddy Hield is shooting 43% from range.
Is Duarte a starter, how much should he be aggressive and play his game? Or should he defer to other stat stuffers? That’s not was slowed him down, he said.
“I’m just playing my game. It wasn’t going well for me, that’s it. I know what I have to do, I know what my role is.”
That reminds me of last season when we asked him what the front office or coaching staff is asking of him and he always replied, “Just be me. Be Chris.”
He was healthy going into this season and felt more comfortable because he knew what to expect. He also benefitted from playing with his national TV over the summer. Those at training camp practices relayed how he looked good, much more patient and in control.
“The start of my second year was really slow too, so I’ve been there and there’s been constant conversations between us,” Haliburton said. “Just stay the course and he puts the work in so trust what he does every day and it’ll work out.
“When you’re coming off the bench, you can see the flow of the game and see how it’s looking, see where you can impact the game. Maybe the team’s making shots, now when you get in you feel good. But if you start a game, now you’re setting the flow, you’re setting the rhythm. It’s a different mindset completely.”
Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle credited Duarte, 25, for staying at it en route to a career game.
“Sometimes you come into your second year or your third year with certain expectations about, ‘Yeah, I got a year under my belt, I got this figured out.’ It happens to anybody and I don’t know that’s what happened with him, but I just really loved his aggression since the Detroit game. He’s been an aggressive pro on the floor.”
In that game against Detroit, Duarte missed 11 of 14 shots and only finished with nine points in their first win of the season. Half of his attempts were around the basket from cutting, attacking and being aggressive, and the other half were from beyond the arc. That’s a good balance for the second-year guard.
“He always works at both ends of the floor, he always wants to play the right way for his teammates,” Carlisle continued. “It was good to see him have a breakout (game).”
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That breakout game was extra special because it was in New York, specifically Brooklyn, where there’s a big Dominican population. Duarte was born in Montreal, but he played high school basketball in New York.
“There were a lot of Dominicans out there supporting me,” he said with a proud smile.” All I could see was the flags around the crowd. That’s a good feeling for me knowing my people came out and supported and showed me love. It gave me an extra motivation.”
Starting wing Aaron Nesmith didn’t play in either game in Brooklyn after dealing with right foot soreness after playing 30 minutes Friday against the Washington Wizards. Carlisle declined to say whether it is to his plantar fascia, which he overcame in his other foot (left) during training camp. They do not think it is anything that will keep him out long-term, but that is not yet clear.
Nesmith is unlikely to play Friday against the Miami Heat. That will be his seventh day taking it easy and not playing. “Beyond that, we’ll see,” Carlisle said. “He’s making gradual progress.”
Backup center Isaiah Jackson seems to be good to go. He grabbed the back of his left knee during the first quarter of Monday’s loss at Brooklyn, then returned briefly. But he did not play in the second half.
Carlisle: “He practiced today and seem to do fine. It appeared that it was a bruise. Not sure exactly what happened during the game, but he felt it again when he got the dunk on the break.”
A Very Special Audience
You may have noticed that I mentioned practice being at The Fieldhouse rather than the practice facility. It was for a very good reason.
The Pacers hosted about 200 members of the Armed Forces, both active and veteran, to a special day with the team. It’s part of the NBA’s annual Hoops for Troops initiative.
First, they were treated to a breakfast in the Main Concourse and were visited by familiar names like team executives, team broadcasters, Boomer and the Pacemates. Then, they got to watch practice and meet players and coaches afterward on the court. Each of them went home with a goodie bag, autographs and a ticket to an upcoming game.
“It’s a privilege and an honor to have them here, to have them watch practice,” Carlisle said. “We had a good day today. They were a captive audience. Anytime you get a chance to interact with the military is a blessing.”