Everything was going so well. After pundits and fans criticized Danny Ainge for reaching for Payton Pritchard with the 26th pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, FastPP/8-Mile/P-Rabbit responded to the doubters as one of the most productive rookies of his class. He immediately carved out a role as the back up point guard in Brad Stevens’ rotation, averaging nearly 8 points, 2.5 rebounds, and 2.5 assists in 21 minutes per game. More so, he exuded a confidence that you don’t see from most rookies this early in the season, particularly those that haven’t played organized basketball since the pandemic shut down hoops in March.
And then last Friday night happened.
After Dwight Howard attempted to box out Jaylen Brown for an offensive rebound, Brown fell into Pritchard’s knee. Initially, the injury looked serious and you could see Pritchard saying that he heard a pop.
“That was my first ever knee injury ever. Obviously, when I got hit and then feeling like it popped and then the pain, instantly I went to the worse (case scenario),” Pritchard said today during his media availability. “Your mind is like, ‘I’m done. I’m done for however long.”
After an MRI the next day, it was deemed a Grade I MCL sprain with a two-week recovery timetable. Even though the rookie has been sidelined for the last week, that hasn’t stopped his development. Even before the regular season started, he already made a fan of Marcus Smart with his fearless play and the two have played well together and now with the return of Kemba Walker, he has two veterans to sponge off of. “I try to pick up things from everybody. Obviously, the way Kemba comes off screens. He’s so effective (with) his pull-up three off of screens. He makes the right reads. Smart’s energy, how he’s in the lane, how he gets so many hands on balls.”
“For me, I’m just trying to be the best Payton Pritchard on both ends of the ball and just learn from guys like that,” Pritchard said. “And if I can take stuff away from them, then it’ll only make me better.”
In terms of a timetable for his return, Pritchard and the team are taking it slow. He says he’s at a little over 50% and has started to ramp up his activity, moving and cutting on the floor. “It’s going to be when I feel the best and when our staff feels that I’m able to go out there and go 100%. That’s the biggest thing. I’m not trying to go out there if I’m like only 80-90%. I want to be back fully,” Pritchard said on when he’ll be back.
After tomorrow night’s game hosting the Lakers, the Celtics go out on a five-game, ten-day road trip to the west coast before coming back to Boston for a six-game homestand. This is just speculation, but that long stretch at home seems like a good target for Pritchard’s much anticipated return.