4 Indiana Pacers small forward options: A look at Chris Duarte and more

NBA: Preseason-Indiana Pacers at Charlotte Hornets

The Indiana Pacers’ preseason got underway Wednesday evening against the Charlotte Hornets. The majority of the fans believe this season won’t be good from a wins and losses standpoint. However, there is a small group that believes this team can make the playoffs. I like their confidence.

Unfortunately, even the Pacers’ organization isn’t predicting a winning or playoff-caliber season. The message they are promoting to fans is to watch the growth and development of this young team. There is certainly a lot of intrigue and questions surrounding this team. For example, how long will Myles Turner be on the team or who will be the team’s starting small forward? This last question is what we’ll focus on.

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Let’s meet the Indiana Pacers small forward candidates, including Chris Duarte

NBA: Preseason-Indiana Pacers at Charlotte Hornets

So who are the options for coach Rick Carlisle to choose from? There is Oshae Brissett, who of this group, is the longest-tenured Pacer at three years. Up next is the second longest-tenured NBA player on the Pacers’ roster, Aaron Nesmith. Followed by former rookie Chris Duarte. And then finally we have this year’s rookie, sixth overall draft selection Bennedict Mathurin.

For those asking about Buddy Hield, the thought is that he’ll be the starting shooting guard. There could be some lineups that have him at the small forward but the expectation should be for him to get most of his minutes at the two guard.

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Examining the options

NBA: Indiana Pacers-Media Day

Now that we’ve met the players, we need to evaluate them. First, we’ll start with Nesmith. Drafted by the Boston Celtics back in 2020, he appeared in a total of 98 games and only averaged 12.7 minutes. Looking at his career stats won’t paint the clearest picture. 

However, looking at some of his advanced stats on Basketball Reference we see that he can be a player worthy of minutes and being in a team’s rotation. Reports out of Boston after Nesmith was traded all spoke positively about him. He just wasn’t able to carve out a spot in the rotation, and Pacers fans should expect a solid player.

Up next is Oshae Brissett. He’s had an up-and-down career with the Pacers. This is an important season for him, as it is his last with the Pacers under his current contract. Brissett is similar to Nesmith, as they both profile as a player that can be in a team’s rotation. Unfortunately, neither of them is a very good three-point shooter, at least that’s what they’ve shown so far.

The fact that neither can stretch the floor hurts them compared to the other two guys on the list. Both will need to prove that they can consistently make threes in order to set themselves apart and get some minutes. Something that works in Brissett’s favor is his ability to play multiple positions.

Next, let’s talk about the new rookie. Between myself and a local morning sports radio host, it’s unclear who has the bigger crush on Bennedict Mathurin. It might be foolish to say that from an athletic and ability standpoint that he’s the best player since the Pacers drafted that guy from Fresno State. However, Mathurin looks and sounds like a player that wants to actually be in Indiana for his career. 

Mathurin showed in college that he is comfortable with catch-and-shoot opportunities. Even if those catch shoots are curls off of screens. But there’s more to his game than just being a spot-up shooter. He can go get his own shot, too.

Also, he can facilitate a little bit, and maybe most importantly he is a more than capable defender. Now there are times when his defense lacks because he’s “not fully locked in.” This is a concern but considering he’s unimpressed with Lebron James, I think he’ll be locked in almost every night.

Finally, there is last season’s rookie. There is curiously not a lot of optimism or hype surrounding Chris Duarte heading into the season. He did have a solid rookie season.

  • 43% FG
  • 37% 3FG
  • 80% FT
  • 13.1 pts
  • 4.1 reb
  • 2.1 ast
  • 1 stl

A thought for the lack of hype is that his first half of the season was so good and his second half was filled with injuries and not as good. Regardless, Duarte has a very legit chance to be a starter. And considering he dropped 27 points in his debut last season, it might just be smart to have him start again on opening night.

This is more of a long-term question but it remains to be seen if Duarte is better utilized coming off the bench as opposed to being a starter. It’s fair to expect the answer to this question to come this season. This team should spend a lot of time mixing and matching its lineups to find out the best way to utilize its talent.

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Predicting the Indiana Pacers opening day lineup

NBA: Indiana Pacers-Media Day

The Pacers’ first preseason game came Wednesday evening. It’s possible tonight’s starting lineup is the same as opening day. It’s also possible the lineup isn’t the same. For the sake of clarity, Jalen Smith, Myles Turner, Tyrese Haliburton, Buddy Hield and Chris Duarte were the starting five for the opener.

Tyrese Haliburton will be the starting point guard, Jalen Smith and Myles Turner the starting bigs. You can probably write Hield’s name in pen as the shooting guard. As for the starting small forward? 

It really comes down to two guys, the Pacers’ last two first-round picks. And as far as the winner goes for opening night? Duarte will be the small forward. This lineup would put five players on the floor who can shoot. It will create a lot of space for driving lanes.

As the season progresses you can expect the rookie to earn a starting job. Whether that’s the small forward or shooting guard role remains to be seen. This team offers a lot of excitement and hope.

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