Dennis Schroder’s off-season acquisition was seen as a huge coup for the Boston Celtics, but unfortunately, it had a negative effect on Payton Pritchard’s ability to find a rhythm early in the season. Ime Udoka, like most new head coaches, placed his trust with the veterans on Boston’s roster, and the younger players were left fighting for scraps.
But then, on December 4, Pritchard had himself a night to remember, as he dropped 19 points on the Portland Trail Blazers, dominating the fourth quarter, and sending his hometown crowd into a frenzy.
I’d love to say that that game was a turning point in Pritchard’s season, but in truth, it was simply a platform that allowed him to begin fighting for a consistent role within the team. Ultimately, Pritchard’s breakthrough didn’t materialize until Schroder was traded and suddenly, there was a clear path to minutes for the sophomore guard, and we began to see what Pritchard was capable of on a consistent basis.
Let’s be fair: 8-Mile was getting playing time with Schroder on the roster, but the minutes were inconsistent, and when you’re a shooter, consistent opportunity is everything. It also didn’t help that Pritchard spent a portion of the season playing in a mask due to a broken nose, and yes, the mask affected his shooting.
“I’m just done wearing it. It’s kind of annoying to wear. It takes away some of your vision. It’s just a lot different. Going forward, if I break my nose, I break my nose. It’s a little early but it is what it is. I’m just done with it.”
Once Schroder had moved on, Pritchard participated in every remaining regular-season game, averaging 18 minutes per game and shooting 46.6% from deep on 4.8 attempts per game.
For a Celtics team that had been riddled by shooting inconsistencies from deep throughout the first half of the season, Pritchard’s injection into the main rotation paid immediate dividends, as teams had no choice but to adjust their pick-up points due to his limitless shooting range. And suddenly, the bench unit provided impressive spacing, and the team's slashers had more room to maneuver.
Outside of just spacing the floor, we saw Udoka begin to trust Pritchard in a larger off-ball role, often working as a screener or cutter to generate better opportunities for his teammates. In fact, a large portion of Boston’s inverted screens (unfortunately, this isn’t something that’s tracked) were set by the sharpshooting guard.
“He’s obviously one of our best shooters and has always been that, so moving him into that spot, it was just a matter of opportunity, as I’ve mentioned and him learning to play on and off the ball, do some different things than he’s done,” Ime Udoka explained as Pritchard received a bigger role in the offense.
Then the playoffs came around, and Pritchard became a defensive target due to his limited size. Rather than shrink under the pressure, we began to see the dog in him, as he hustled and fought on every possession — refusing to be used as an easy route to the basket.
That’s always the concern with smaller guards — they are susceptible to being hunted by an offense. We saw Kemba Walker suffer a similar fate back in 2020. Yet, Pritchard never backs down, regardless of the size of the task, or the talent level of the opposition — and that has endeared him to both the coaching staff and the fanbase alike.
Throughout the post-season, Pritchard averaged 12.9 minutes per game, making 24 appearances from the bench, although his perimeter shooting regressed, with him converting just 33.3% of his 3 attempts per night. Yet, in just his second season in the NBA, the diminutive guard was coming off the bench on a contending team and helping his team reach the NBA Finals.
Now, as we look ahead to next season, it’s clear that Pritchard needs to continue developing as an off-ball guard, as that is clearly the role Udoka envisions for him and is the best way for him to consolidate himself within the team’s rotation moving forward.
“My first goal is finding consistent minutes every night and where I can gain the trust where I can be out there 20 minutes per night, instead of it fluctuating. Earn that right and be trusted to do that game in and game out and deliver, shots will fall,” Pritchard said during his exit interview with the media.
Payton Pritchard on his goals for next season: "My first goal is finding consistent minutes every night" pic.twitter.com/HFwaxQuX20— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) June 17, 2022
Fast PP came into this season off the back of an ideal summer, but encountered some significant roadblocks once everything was underway. Hopefully, Pritchard can continue to develop with his trainers and the coaching staff this summer and cement himself within Udoka’s rotation next season, because his shooting, ball handling, and winning mentality all provide the Celtics a boost off the bench, and that’s something you can never guarantee when entering into the free agent market for a veteran pickup.