It’s a tight race to decide what Boston’s official Achilles Heel of the season might be, but bench scoring might be the most glaring issue. In general, I’ve critiqued Boston’s offense as being sluggish and bland. With Robert Williams promoted to starting center, the ball movement has been noticeably better, not to mention Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum’s improved playmaking supporting whatever offense Boston can come up with. While Brown and Williams made the most of their off-seasons, Payton Pritchard might be the Celtics’ Most Improved Player since the season started.
Despite the Fast PP nickname, Pritchard isn’t actually very fast by NBA standards. That being said, he still has a way of getting to the rim with a flurry of moves to keep defenders off-balance.
My favorite thing about Pritchard is how proactive he is because, if you can’t tell by now, I have a lot of complaints about Boston’s offense. The greatest misunderstanding of the season, in my opinion, is that there’s no effort on that end of the floor. My counter-argument remains the same: you can’t blame effort if the offense is working as slowly as its designed to be.
Pritchard, despite all of this, never gives up the dribble or lets the defense get comfortable. It says a lot about how I’ve adjusted my standards for what a “good offense” looks like when I’m celebrating a player just taking the initiative to do things, but here we are. I am officially on the record as a supporter of doing things.
It’s one thing to play through contact, but it’s another to make sure there’s contact in order to finish a play. The Celtics were really good at this last season, and I’ve been struggling for all of this one to figure out why they don’t do this anymore. Keeping the defender on your hip and giving him a bump to make sure he’s still there is often better than blowing by them and leaving space for them to catch up. Pritchard understands this, which is why he’s able to finish plays like these without getting blocked.
Per Basketball Reference, Pritchard is shooting 68.5% within three feet from the basket, which is pretty average, but certainly not bad for a rookie point guard. Kemba is finishing 75.7% of his plays at the rim, which is a fair benchmark for Pritchard to aim for.
Pritchard’s 107 assists to 49 turnovers give him a solid 2.1 assist/turnover ratio. Marcus Smart and Kemba Walker are the only two other Celtics with assist/turnover ratios above 2.0:
Marcus Smart - 230 assists, 76 turnovers, AST/TO of 3.02
Kemba Walker - 195 assists, 80 turnovers, AST/TO of 2.43
Pritchard’s 2.2 turnovers per 100 possessions ranks him pretty well among his teammates as well:
Daniel Theis was the only player to play more than 1000 minutes and turn the ball over at a lower rate. I’ve just now realized that Pritchard leads the team in total games played, which was nearly unthinkable after the preseason and equally deserving of a purple heart.
When the Celtics are healthy, their bench rotation starts to look pretty solid. Tristan Thompson, Evan Fournier, and Pritchard cover most of the team’s basic needs and and Brad can sprinkle in some Romeo and Grant as he pleases. Through all the injuries, health protocols, and whatever else, Pritchard’s decisiveness is a nice quality to have as Boston deploys lineups that have never played together, and have never had the chance to practice together. If next season is even remotely normal, the Celtics should fare better with a more consistent guard rotation.