Rookie Chris Duarte gives Pacers fans hope despite upsetting season-opening loss

“He’s gonna have my vote for Rookie of the Year ‘cause he’s gonna have a great season," Malcolm Brogdon said.

Chris Duarte has arrived and he’s even better than expected.

We knew he was a ready-made player. That, in part, is why the Pacers were all over him with the 13th overall pick and why the Warriors and Knicks were after him. It still was a frequent conversation leading up to the draft, including at Pacers headquarters. How do you weigh an immediate contributor against a younger player with potential a higher ceiling?

We saw it in summer league and in the preseason, but Wednesday was the first time he was able to pour it on in a meaningful game. Even though the Pacers went from a stellar first half to a troubling dry spell in the third quarter, and ultimately lost 123-122 in their season opener in Charlotte, it doesn’t damper Duarte’s loud introduction.

He’s not loud by any means — confident, careful and in control. And he erupted for 27 points in his NBA debut, including 6 for 9 from range. Already, he’s a threat the Pacers haven’t had since Paul George; they simply haven’t drafted high enough.

And if you remember, PG didn’t have an eye-popping rookie season. He only played 20 minutes per game and averaged less than eight points per game.

Duarte was a lottery pick and he’s acting like it. His first performance was more the norm than the exception. And other than the coaching staff, he’s the only significant change to the roster since last season.

“It’s gonna be huge,” said Malcolm Brogdon, who scored 13 of his 28 points in the fourth. “His ability to shoot the ball, his ability to read the game. Very versatile and he’s very poised and mature for a rookie. I thought he played terrific tonight. He’s gonna really help us.

“He’s gonna have my vote for Rookie of the Year ‘cause he’s gonna have a great season.”

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