Payton Pritchard is often lumped together with the other “young Celtics,” but he’s in fact older than Jayson Tatum. That experience showed out in his rookie year. After four years at Oregon, Pritchard started Year 1 as a ready-to-go, plug-and-play point guard for the Celtics. His shooting immediately translated to the pro game at a 41.1% clip from behind the arc. He tapered off towards the end of the regular season and into the playoffs, but for someone that was a surprise first round pick, Pritchard proved his doubters wrong.
After a few months rest, Fast PP yet again displayed a polish to his game and a growing confidence in it at Summer League that included a one-day absence to play in a Portland Pro-Am game where he dropped 92 points.
And now, he’s opening eyes again at the start of training camp.
“He’s been great. He’s been great since you saw him in Summer League. He’s been great in open gym and he’s carried that on into camp,” head coach Ime Udoka said after Wednesday’s practice. “That’s a guy that obviously doesn’t lack in confidence. He’s coming in battling. Obviously, we have some veteran point guards that are competitive as well, so it’s fun watching those three guys go against each other with Dennis (Schroder) and Marcus (Smart).”
That sentiment was echoed by Enes Kanter. “He’s been playing unbelievable, man. He’s going to be a big problem for other teams. I’m happy he’s on our side.”
With the veteran additions of Josh Richardson and Dennis Schroder, the back court gets a little more crowded, but Pritchard is too good to keep out of the rotation. CelticsBlog’s Coach Spins suggests that he could even be a starter if Udoka elects to go small. “His shooting is obviously a huge asset with what we want to do,” he said after Wednesday’s practice so paired with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown should generate several catch-and-shoot opportunities for him. Last season, he was second to only Evan Fournier in C&S shooting percentage at 47.1% (46.7 3FG%).
However, for Pritchard to earn more minutes, he’ll have to be more than just a shooter.
“He’s going to be very aggressive and be who he is, but we’re trying to teach him more about the position — not just looking to score every time and get to the basket,” Udoka said of the developing point guard. “You draw that crowd, you make the right play out of that.”
When asked about a rise in pull jumpers coming off of picks in Vegas, Pritchard said, “I’m just trying to expand my game. Throughout the offseason, everyday, I’m trying to work on different things to keep expanding my game. I’m comfortable with that shot, so if it’s there and it’s a good shot, you gotta take it.” That’s Payton Pritchard in a nutshell.
Versatility has been the buzz word since Media Day. As a whole, the roster makeover has given Udoka many ways to play on a macro level. But to a man, it’ll be each player’s variety of contributions and ability to play multiple roles that will move him up the depth chart. By all accounts, Pritchard is again making his case.