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Celtics point guards creating competitive, cohesive unit: ‘an environment for winning’

Jrue Holiday, Derrick White, and Payton Pritchard are ready to learn, compete, and win in Boston.

Philadelphia 76ers v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

BRIGHTON, MA — Trading Marcus Smart marked a pivotal moment in the Boston Celtics’ current era. Just one year after assembling the deepest guard depth in the league, they shipped out the head of the snake in favor of going big.

However, just a couple of months later, they landed Jrue Holiday, elevated Payton Pritchard into a larger role in the process, and re-solidified Boston’s guard rotation as one of the best in the league.

As Holiday, Pritchard, and Derrick White have battled in training camp, competition has been fierce, and it’s bringing the best out of everyone involved.

“It’s been fun,” Holiday told me after Celtics practice on Monday. “We are pretty guard-heavy. A lot of defensive guys, a lot of offensive guys. But you see the top dogs going at it. You see Jaylen [Brown] and JT [Jayson Tatum] going at it, and then you might see Payton and JB going at it. You see D-White and me going at it.

“It’s obviously an environment for winning. It’s an environment to have a competitive nature. And again, to get upset and make your teammates better.”

Early reports out of practice revealed that Holiday and Brown had been battling hard. That energy seemingly carried over throughout the course of training camp.

But with Holiday being the newest face in town and Pritchard earning more opportunities, White has been cast to the wayside in terms of attention.

That was until ESPN left him off their Top-100 Players list. And on Sunday night, after their loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Lakers guard D’Angelo Russell revealed that White has been his defensive inspiration, noting that he “want[s] to be Derrick White.”

“I think it’s just him,” Holiday said when asked what makes other players want to be like White. “His character, his personality. Seems kind of quiet, but when he gets on the court, he really makes a lot of loud noise.”

Since the Celtics traded for White at the 2021 deadline, he has been a constant force on both sides of the ball.

“I know people always talk about defensively, how obviously he’s blocking shots,” Holiday said of White. “He blocks shots at the rim, or even at the three[-point line], getting steals, playing great defense, but offensively, he is reliable.

“He’s always played very, very solid, knocking down threes. A very reliable shooter. So, he’s just more than reliable. Someone you can always go to when you need him.”

White was named to the All-Defensive Second Team last year and led all guard in blocks. He also shot 38.1% from distance on 4.8 three-point attempts per game.

With Holiday and White slated as potential starters, a decision that Holiday noted he doesn’t care about, Pritchard has consumed all the attention off the bench. He’ll be the Celtics’ de facto sixth man this year, outside of which member of the top six slides out of the starting lineup.

And while the guard room on the court has been putting in work, the Celtics also added to it off the court this summer. They brought in former All-Star and long-time NBA assistant Sam Cassell, who was on Boston’s 2008 championship roster.

Cassell averaged 15.7 points and 6.0 assists throughout the course of his 15-year NBA career, and Pritchard has been soaking up as much wisdom as possible.

“Just his knowledge for the game,” Pritchard said of what he’s learning from Cassell. “He’s obviously been around basketball for a long time, was a tremendous player, and has a coach for a while, too. He’s been around a lot of great players. So just his knowledge and the confidence he gives players is unbelievable.”

Pritchard has burst onto the scene during the Celtics’ first three preseason games. He’s averaging 21.3 points, 4.0 assists, and 1.7 steals while shooting 52.3% from the field and 41.9% from deep on 10.3 three-point attempts per game.

After riding the bench in Boston last year, Pritchard inked a contract extension this summer and is ready to impact winning.

“It’s fun,” Holiday said of playing with Pritchard. “He can hoop. Just a natural bucket. The way that he plays is so easy. It looks like it just comes naturally to him. So always fun to watch him play.”

Entering his fourth season, Pritchard is set to have his most consistent role yet after seeing his minutes drop in both years since he was a rookie.

He has a great support system around him, and with Holiday alongside him, an All-Defensive First Team player and the only Celtic on the roster who has won a championship, he’ll have a chance to grow.

“Jrue is an unbelievable player,” Payton said. “For me, to have somebody like that who I can learn so much from defensively [and] offensively. Just how he attacks the game is incredible. I’m definitely just going to be picking his brain a lot this year.”

Memphis Grizzlies v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Fluharty/Getty Images

Despite their offseason endeavors, the Celtics still have one of the best guard rooms in the league. Holiday and White will lead the charge while Pritchard settles back into the off-the-bench role that he assumed in his rookie season.

But while Pritchard noted his desire to learn from Holiday, the newest Celtic stressed the importance of communication.

Obviously, he’ll be there to support his teammates, but rather than focusing on what the vets can do for the younger players, the Celtics and their guard room will create an interdependent space where they can all learn from each other.

“It’s not even about young guys,” Holiday said. “I think it’s just being open. Because there are things that I feel like I could get from [Pritchard]. Even how he comes off the screen and shoots it. He’s a couple of inches shorter than me, and he gets his shot off every time, and it’s pure.

“So, I think it’s just having that relationship, building that chemistry, and then keeping that line of communication.”

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