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Breaking down Chris Duarte’s offseason film

And analyzing his potential indicators for improvement, as well as where he still needs to grow, in his second season.

2022 NBA Summer League - Charlotte Hornets v Indiana Pacers Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images

After missing the final 12 games of the NBA regular season due to a toe injury, Chris Duarte returned to action this summer, averaging 19 points, 2.7 assists, and 2.7 turnovers while shooting 52 percent on twos and 28 percent from three over three games with the Dominican Republic’s National Team (including a friendly played against St. John’s University), as well as one appearance during Summer League in Las Vegas. At first glance, from those numbers alone, it appears as though he struggled to find his range in a larger role on higher shot volume while barely breaking even in terms of playmaking.

And yet, context is everything. Remember, these teams aren’t building chemistry over an 82-game schedule. For example, although this possession doesn’t end in usage for Duarte, who can be seen motioning for his teammates to spread out, it is demonstrative of some of the offensive clunk that can come along with attempting to read and react when the five players on the floor aren’t accustomed to playing together.

Still, despite some of those noticeable hiccups and what the numbers seems to say, the film reveals several micro-areas where his game, not unlike his more chiseled upper body and bleached-blonde locks, has changed since the end of last season.

A step in the right direction

Just look at this self-created three. Yes, there’s clearly a difference between generating breathing room on a switch against a college team and doing so against, say, Evan Mobley, but the takeaway here isn’t so much about the isolation, or the result, as the process.

In many ways, Duarte can be a creature of habit when it comes to his footwork and movement patterns, particularly as an on-ball shooter. Whether stepping back to his left or pulling up dribbling off screen to his right, he rarely takes alternate routes to work. That’s why, on this end of quarter possession against the Raptors, he can be seen negotiating custody of the left corner, where he shot 43 percent last season compared to 26 percent from the right.

As is communicated to Justin Holiday at the end of the possession, in addition to being more accurate from that side of the floor, Duarte wanted to be able to curl into his shot after planting his left foot and squaring up to his right.

With those idiosyncrasies in mind, compare the aforementioned three he made against St. John’s University to what happened on this possession against OG Anunoby. Leaning forward with his right foot, Anunoby is funneling Duarte to create space moving to his right.

Now, watch what happened. Rather than taking what the defense is giving him, as he did in the friendly with the Dominican Republic, notice how he prioritizes the coziness of stepping back to his left, even at the cost of taking a longer and more difficult shot going uphill.

Needless to say, it wasn’t often that he took lateral or backward steps in the “right” direction last season; and when he did, those looks were either wayyyyy short or the product of having no other choice, such as trying to lift De’Andre Hunter to the left before eventually relenting and rocking back to his right.

As such, regardless of the competition level against St. John’s University, it’s notable that he willfully swam with the tide when he so often paddled against it last season.

Make contact

As a rookie, Duarte attempted six or more free throws in four games. This summer, he’s attempted six or more free throws in each of the four games he’s played.

Sure, it’s only Summer League, but there’s also a tangible difference in approach — at least in certain spots. For example, think back to what happened on this baseline out of bounds play against Toronto. After squirting through the elevator doors, he sticks to his usual script, evading the airborne closeout while moving uphill to his left (aha!), when he could’ve acted as a landing deck for Chris Boucher’s parachuting closeout,

Nine months later, look at how he makes the more savvy choice, patiently leaning into the contact after getting his defender in the air.

That also seems to be translating to his last step, where he appeared more aggressive against Panama in actually seeking out contact to get back to the front of the rim with his added strength instead of allowing himself to simply get funneled underneath.

Moving forward, he still needs to be more physical and show more manipulation in terms of set-up to avoid getting pushed off his route as a movement shooter, but there at least seems to be somewhat of a change in mentality with regard to playing to get fouled in addition to playing to score.

Avoiding Attention

When confronted by increased defensive attention, there were moments last season when Duarte’s pacing was comparable to an irregular heartbeat, both in playing too fast as well as too slow. Here, for example, he ends up fluttering himself onto an island with Jrue Holiday, in part, because he doesn’t wait for Myles Turner to approach on the screen.

As a result, with Jrue staying mostly square to the ball and Bobby Portis undeterred by the late slip and able to recover, Duarte can’t turn the corner even after hesitating.

On the flip side, because he prefers to tear apart hedges with his shot, he can also be prone to staying on ball too long, as was the case, here, when he was timely in dribbling off the slipped pick from Sabonis, but then never made the short-roll pass nor put any downhill pressure on the retreating big.

Granted, Holiday is an all-world level defender at the point of attack and Patrick Beverly can certainly be pesky (even if somewhat overly so), but that isn’t the only difference on this possession against Panama. First of all, notice how in acting as primary ball-handler, he calls out marching orders for the screener to cut across and late pivot, changing the side the ball screen is set on so as to force the defensive big to cover more ground on the hedge with the ball moving away. That alone is more deliberate, but also watch how he synchronizes the timing of his first dribble going downhill with the contact of the screen, enabling himself to gain separation.

From there, even with two defenders converging on the ball, he changes speed just enough to turn the corner and then immediately fires, unloading a wraparound pass with his off-hand that doesn’t get marked down as an assist but might be the most assist thing he has done against pressure since being drafted.

Or, how about using multiple escape dribbles to drag out this trap before attacking the recovery on the drive and changing hands to uncork a lob pass to the read spot.

To be fair, that pass is slightly off target, but imagine if he’s playing with the forgiveness of Isaiah Jackson’s quick hops and ridiculous catch radius.

Overall, Duarte was far from flawless in these games. He took some bad shots, got confused while switching, and looked slow with his first step on defense both on-ball and in support positions during closing time. Plus, more noteworthy than some of the threes he missed were the threes he never managed to access — particularly when operating away from the ball. As was previously alluded to, he doesn’t often gain separation for himself by running hard off screens and quickly getting into his shot.

Consequently, if he’s being top-locked, as was the case against St. John’s University, with his defender planted between himself and the screens, he could stand to be trickier with his set-up, perhaps freezing his shadow with stutter steps or feigning in which direction he plans to dart, rather than simply cutting across the picks at a jaunt and making it easy for opponents to switch out and neutralize the action.

Furthermore, even when he does sprint to his spot, he can make his finishing move harder than it needs to be. As in, why turn into the defense, here, instead of planting his inside foot and pivoting toward the ball for a quick catch-and-shoot.

As a rookie, Duarte converted just 23 percent of his shots coming off screens last season, logging fewer attempts (30) in 55 games with Indiana than Buddy Hield launched (41) in 26 games after being traded. Granted, the Pacers appear to have a fuller stable of movement shooters than what was the case for a large portion of last season when Justin Holiday was arguably overtaxed, but if they plan on running blocker-mover actions with Duarte and Bennedict Mathurin circling around continuous flares and pins then this is an area where the former will need to demonstrate more signs of growth.

Still, from seeking out contact and hitting first to being more deliberate in terms of when to pass and in what direction to dribble, Duarte is already flashing indicators of progress heading into a season that is expected to be defined by the maturation of Tyrese Haliburton and how much those around him can blossom.