LAS VEGAS — Payton Pritchard did his job, showcasing a vastly improved all-around game that separated him from the pack at NBA Summer League before he left Las Vegas. Most NBA veterans who do go to Summer League end up sitting early, though Boston’s summer head coach Joe Mazzulla announced they planned for Pritchard to leave the event early this year from the beginning.
“We were able to talk as a team and an organization and Payton won’t be with us the rest of the way,” Mazzulla said. “That’s just a decision, a prior engagement that he had months ago and that’s something that we honored and we’ll be moving forward.”
Aaron Nesmith and Romeo Langford will play on Saturday against the 76ers, Mazzulla confirmed. Carsen Edwards will too. He received stitches and left Thursday’s win over Orlando early with a right ear laceration following a collision with Cole Anthony.
Pritchard averaged 20.3 points, 8.7 assists, 4.7 rebounds, 2.0 steals and 1.3 turnover per game on 51.4 percent shooting on 37 shots. He hit 57.7G% of his 26 three-point attempts, flashing expanded range, and 8-of-9 at the free throw line. His 1.38 points per possession led every player in summer league.
Mazzulla and the Celtics had development plans for each player in Vegas, with Pritchard’s revolving around the pick-and-roll, passing and being a floor general for Boston. He found teammates, including hitting Langford for a game-winner in transition in the opener against Atlanta and flashed a two-man game early in contests with Bruno Fernando once he arrived. His activity at point guard made Boston the highest-scoring team in Vegas.
Boston is balancing player health, those goals along with getting everyone on the roster minutes and coaching. Mazzulla sat Langford in Thursday’s game as part of a plan, he said, and hasn’t paid much attention to the standings or where the Celtics are lined up in the championship race.
“I didn’t know (the tiebreaker rule),” Mazzulla said. “I think it was just more about Aric, K.J., Dedric, just give those guys a chance to be coached.”
Pritchard felt rusty in the first game, then thought the last two wins were a closer representation of how this collection of players can look together. He emphasized the ability to control the game and get teammates shots as a separator between good and great point guards in the league.
Mazzulla and Boston’s staff worked on pacing, pushing the ball in transition and playing physical defense. He asked if Pritchard can lead a team, can he make others around him better and can he consistently run the pick-and-roll.
“You see a guy, you hit him. For me, it’s more instinct,” Pritchard said. “Seeing that it’s a two-on-one break, I’m going to get this guy to commit to me and hit the other guy, so really it’s just instincts and seeing the play two steps ahead rather than thinking, oh I’m going to get this guy a shot. That’s how I see the game is just going down, having the vision to see the play ahead.”