INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — First, the Indiana Pacers played it safe. Then they took a big swing Thursday night.
They will soon find out if they hit a home run on draft night 2021.
After selecting the oldest player in the draft, 24-year-old shooting guard Chris Duarte of Oregon with the No. 13 overall pick, Pacers president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard acquired the rights to 6-foot-11 center Isaiah Jackson after Washington selected the Kentucky star at No. 22.
“Chris is someone who’s really grown the last two years at Oregon. I think he’s got very good versatility, great work ethic, great toughness, got a great story to get to where he’s at tonight," Pacers general manager Chad Buchanan said. “We think he (Jackson) has a bright future."
Details of the trade were not immediately available, though The Athletic reported Indiana dealt backup point guard Aaron Holiday and the 31st pick, acquired earlier from the Milwaukee Bucks. Washington acquired the 22nd pick from the Los Angeles Lakers as part of the Russell Westbrook deal.
While Duarte and Jackson are both expected to come off the bench as the Pacers try to make it back to the playoffs, they come from vastly different backgrounds.
Duarte was born in Montreal and moved to the Dominican Republic before heading to rural New York for his final two high school seasons.
Initially, he committed to Western Kentucky but instead wound up starring for two seasons at Northwest Florida State, where he was chosen the National Junior College Athletic Association national player of the year before landing with the Ducks.
“I’m just grateful for those people who helped me to get here, my coach, every coach I played for," Duarte said. “I’m just grateful for those people and I’m just really excited and happy."
The Pacers liked his story — and his experience, thinking he could make an immediate impact on a veteran team that already has all five starters under contract for next season.
At 6-foot-6, 190 pounds, Duarte could play a key role in getting Indiana back into the playoffs after missing the postseason for the first time in six years last season.
Duarte averaged 17.1 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.9 steals while shooting 53.2% from the field and 42.4% on 3-pointers in his second and final season at Orgon. He was a third-team All-American selections and earned first team All-Pac-12 honors as well as being selected to the league's all-defensive team. He also won the Jerry West Award as Division I's top shooting guard.
Duarte sensed the Pacers were interested immediately following a workout in Indianapolis.
“I knew I was going to go from nine to 15," he said. “I went to Indiana and had a great, great workout. I met with people in the front office and we really connected well. I met with the coach, we went out to eat. When I left Indiana, I left confident in myself. I knew there was a high chance they were going to take me.”
Jackson, meanwhile, played just one season at Kentucky and emerged as one of the nation's top shot-blockers. He averaged 8.4 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.6 blocks in his only college season. At one point, it was thought he might be a lottery pick.
So when the Pacers figured out how to get him, they pounced.
“He’s got a really good feel for the game for a guy who played center and is known as a great athlete," new coach Rick Carlisle said. “He has great speed but he passes and really sees things. I think we need to add athleticism to this roster. He’s a legit shot-blocker as I mentioned, he’s another guy that brings another unique element and that is a rolling lob threat at the rim."
Carlisle is Indiana's third coach in three seasons. Nate McMillan was fired in August 2020 after the Pacers endured their third first-round sweep in four years.
Pritchard then hired Nate Bjorkgren in October only to let him go in June following a tumultuous season that included reports of internal strife and a public spat between assistant coach Greg Foster and backup center Goga Bitadze, Indiana's first-round pick in 2019.
Pritchard rehired the former Dallas Mavericks coach last month, and Duarte sounds eager to get to work.
“He’s a great coach and I know he’s gonna get the best out of me," Duarte said. “I’m ready to play and when I say I’m ready to play, that means offensively and defensively on and off the court. I’m ready to guard one through three and I’ll guard one through four if they ask me to do it."
Michael Marot, The Associated Press