We've all thought about it. Some of us have even said it, and to be honest, I've written about it on this very platform: ‘with the Boston Celtics' embarrassment of riches at the guard position, it would be better for Payton Pritchard's career if the team found a way to move him before the February 9 trade deadline.’
On December 21, I wrote about the pros and cons of trading Pritchard and noted why, from an optics standpoint, the Celtics could find value in doing what's right by the player.
“Personally, I’m of the belief that doing what’s best for a player’s career is always the right move, especially when you have the talent to cover any gap their potential departure could cause. Pritchard has proven himself in the NBA, as is clearly capable of being the primary guard off the bench for almost any team in the league, so he should be afforded that opportunity. After all, players work incredibly hard to make it into the NBA in the first place, so if the talent is there, and they’ve proven themselves at every turn, keeping them buried on the bench is unfair when you look at it from a human standpoint.”
Yet, as I sat and watched Pritchard come alive down the stretch against the Toronto Raptors in a game where Marcus Smart was hurt and unable to return, I changed my tune. I wasn’t thinking about how other players might view Boston or how Pritchard’s skillset is worthy of a consistently bigger role somewhere else. No. I was thinking how lucky are the Celtics to have this sort of talent sitting on the bench as a backup.
Pritchard is the fifth guard in Boston’s rotation, behind Smart, Malcolm Brogdon, Derrick White, and Jaylen Brown (who plays down a position at the two=spot). How many 5th string guards in the NBA have the green light to shoot a transition three in a close game with just 5:55 remaining on the clock? My guess is none, or at least hardly any.
However, Pritchard isn’t your usual end-of-bench guard who is getting minutes due to unforeseen circumstances. No. Pritchard is a bonafide ‘first guard off the bench’ talent for the majority of teams in the league. He just happens to be in a tough spot right now where he is part of an extremely talented backcourt rotation.
Here is another example of what Pritchard can bring to the table when he’s given the opportunity and enough minutes to develop a rhythm for how the defense is playing him and the game is flowing.
Playing as the ‘popper’ in a Spain pick-and-roll action, Prtichard takes a logo three and drains it with nothing but the sound of the net filling the arena. Hitting that type of shot is hard enough, but doing it with 1:30 left in a tie game while on the road, well, that’s just another reminder that Pritchard has ice in his veins, and as the younger generations would say, ‘is a bad, bad, man.’
Of course, Pritchard is more than just a floor spacing guard, he’s also a reliable small screener who uses his lack of height to help goad defenses into favorable switches for his teammates — just as we saw during Boston’s run to the NBA Finals last season, where Ime Udoka would consistently have Pritchard set inverted screens for Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
I like this inverted Pick-and-Pop action between Tatum and Pritchard. Inverted Screen gets Tatum the mismatch on Garland. Tatum draws two, and Pritchard gets an open shot because of it. Didn't fall, but was a nice wrinkle to the offense. pic.twitter.com/exTuWDflgh— Adam Taylor (@AdamTaylorNBA) December 23, 2021
And, defensively, Pritchard likes to play on the front foot, often fighting for, and garnering, offensive rebounds, getting under his man to force a pick-up and/or pass, and a willing veer back defender who often takes on the challenge of guarding opposing big men despite the size and strength advantage he gives up.
Put simply, Pritchard is a baller. And right now, his stock is rising. Not because of a single game against a struggling Raptors team on the brink of tearing down their supporting cast, but because he is far better than his role suggests, yet he’s accepting it with the utmost professionalism. Other teams will be taking notice.
They can just keep on looking because, based on Pritchard’s showing against the Raptors, his value to Boston is simply too high to consider trading him before the end of the current season. Especially when you have guards like Marcus Smart (who will always miss time due to his gung-ho style of play), Malcolm Brogdon (who has a litany of injury issues throughout his career), and Derrick White (who in fairness, is the definition of even-keeled and reliability), there will always be a need for a high-level backup, especially one who fits the offensive and defensive system of the team like a glove.
Pritchard is the definition of luxury depth, and given Boston’s lofty goals this season, his presence on the roster should be considered essential, especially if his fourth quarter heroics against Toronto is anything to go by.