Here we are once again: it’s installment number seven of CelticsBlog’s Player of the Week. We’ve got three games to work with this time around, all wins as the Celtics kicked off their undefeated west coast road trip: Wednesday against Golden State, Friday against Sacramento and Sunday against Denver.
As always, our disclaimer: “Player of the Week” does not necessarily translate to “Best Player of the Week.” The idea of this award is to highlight difference-makers from the past week’s games, and to be honest, a strict focus on “best” would lead to this award pinballing back and forth between Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. They’re the team’s star players, and the most important and impactful players on the court even on their worst shooting nights.
Repeatedly writing about those two, while deserved, would be just a little bit less fun. For that reason, we’re going to broaden our standards a little bit to introduce a little more diversity in the results. The two are eligible for the award, of course, but the bar for them is just a little bit higher.
After three weeks of praising the Jays, the disclaimer once again becomes relevant, as we’re venturing down to the back end of the rotation this week.
CelticsBlog Player of the Week #6: Payton Pritchard
3 GP, 19 MPG, 14 PPG, 75% FG, 71% 3PT, 4.3 APG, +54
The NBA went ahead and stole our thunder, naming Jayson Tatum as their Player of the Week yesterday. But after consecutive weeks taking home the hardware here on CelticsBlog, Tatum is going to have to settle for an honorable mention this time around. It’s time to share the spotlight a little bit, and how better to do that than to discuss one of the more unexpected performances of the year?
That’s right, we’re talking about second-year guard Payton Pritchard, fresh off a week in which he very literally couldn’t miss. That’s no misprint up above — Pritchard connected on three-quarters of his shot attempts this week, including a perfect 11-for-11 across Boston’s matchups against Sacramento and Denver to close out the week. Tatum may have been brilliant this week, and Marcus Smart is building his Defensive Player of the Year case while enjoying one of the best offensive stretches of his career, but Pritchard’s week was too silly and too much of an outlier to be ignored.
@ Golden State: 18 MIN, 10 PTS, 44% FG
On its own, Pritchard’s game against the Warriors isn’t the most remarkable. He got nine shots up, making four, including 2-of-6 from the three-point line. It’s a performance worth mentioning because of its mundanity, though. This is what the Celtics need from Payton Pritchard — confident scoring punch from range. Outside of Tatum, Brown and Grant Williams, Pritchard is the most talented three-point shooter on the roster, and the team needs him to let these shots rip even when they aren’t all falling.
This is what sets Pritchard apart from someone like former Celtic Josh Richardson as a shooter. Richardson certainly put up nice results from range during his time in Boston (and is thus far shooting nearly 49% from behind the arc in San Antonio), but it came on fairly low volume at just over three attempts per game. He was a knockdown shooter, to be sure, but didn’t always bend the opposing defense as much as you might expect, given how often he would pass up those shots.
Pritchard, meanwhile, is just flat-out ready to bomb. Over his past 10 games, he’s averaging more than four attempts per night in just 16 minutes of playing time. If he gets a good look, he will take it, and the defense has to respect him as a result. And of course, it helps matters that he’s shooting better than 50% from deep over that span of time, too.
@ Sacramento: 20 MIN, 14 PTS, 100% FG, 4 3PM, 5 REB, 8 AST
@ Denver: 19 MIN, 17 PTS, 100% FG, 5 3PM. 3 AST
Aaand here’s what it looks like when those shots are all falling. Pritchard has the right combination of skill and audacity to be a genuine microwave scorer from range, and this serves as a great (if extreme) example of what he can bring to the table. Boston’s ball movement has been humming throughout their second half surge, and Pritchard fits into that equation seamlessly. Sometimes it’s as simple as getting to the right places at the right times.
It’s important to remember that off-ball movement is a skill. The NBA’s great shooters are largely terrific at operating without the ball in their hands, maintaining offensive spacing and creating looks for themselves by finding holes in the defense. I’m a big fan of this particular play from Pritchard, where he recognizes the turnover as it happens and gets himself to the corner to catch the feed from Williams before the defense can reset itself.
These aren’t all open, easy shots, though. Pritchard is a point guard by trade, and he can certainly handle the ball a little bit. Creating dribble pull-ups in the pick-and-roll like this is a nice little cherry on top of the Celtics’ offense.
Speaking of point guard skills, 11 assists versus just one turnover was some nice work from Pritchard through these two games. This is one avenue of future growth for him; he’s never going to be the tip of the spear for an NBA offense, but being able to keep the ball moving as a secondary playmaker would help his fit in Celtics lineups.
The new year has been filled with heroic performances for the Boston Celtics. In the grand scheme of things, this little outburst from Pritchard might not be as memorable as Tatum’s scoring binge or Al Horford’s revitalization, but for my money, it’s certainly one of the funniest. On the night that Tatum surpassed Ray Allen for third place on the Celtics’ all time three-pointer list, Pritchard shot his way into history as well: he became the fourth player in NBA history to shoot 100% from the field in consecutive games with at least four three-point attempts, joining a hallowed group consisting of Brent Price, Rodney Rogers and Dylan Windler. Wow!
The Dennis Schröder trade gave Pritchard an opportunity to carve himself a real place in the Celtics’ rotation after an anonymous start to the season. In response, he’s risen to the occasion, barreling through his sophomore slump and becoming an every-night player. It’s always fun to highlight notable performances from role players in spaces like this, and this was a particularly fun week to break down. A well-deserved Player of the Week win.
Pritchard made 11 three-pointers last week. Naturally, we’re not using any of them.
This is just such a Prichard play to me. He essentially puts his whole body, bull-in-a-china-shop style, into Domantas Sabonis’ personal space to pry the ball loose for the steal, then runs the length of the floor and challenges 6-foot-4 Donte DiVincenzo at the rim for the fast break layup. That’s the kind of confidence needed to succeed in the NBA when you’re a six-foot tall bench guard who looks like Sid from Toy Story.
That’ll do it for this week’s CelticsBlog Player of the Week. Next up, the Celtics close out their road trip with a visit to the Oklahoma City Thunder (which they won last night), before returning home to host the Utah Jazz on Wednesday and the red hot Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday. As always, sound off in the comments on who you think might step up next, and we’ll see you next week.