Payton Pritchard’s role within the Boston Celtics rotation has been a topic of discussion for much of the season. The sharpshooting guard is a capable off-ball threat, a willing screener, and has an uncanny nose for coming up with offensive rebounds among even the tallest of trees.
Last season, Pritchard had a role on a team that went all the way to the NBA Finals, yet this season, his role was to ensure his seat on the bench never got cold. It’s not that Pritchard is a bad player, but rather that the addition of Malcolm Brogdon consumed the minutes that were previously afforded to him. Yet, as the Celtics gear up for their second-round matchup against the Philadelphia 76ers, there should at least be a discussion about finding some minutes for the man known as ‘Fast PP.’
You see, the Sixers play a slow brand of basketball. I mean, we’re talking sloth slow. The ‘I can’t find where I left my dentures’ type of slow. Ranking 27th in the regular season and dead last in the playoffs for pace, the Sixers run a methodical offense that is designed to limit transition opportunities for their opponents.
How do you counter that? Run. You run on every inbound; you flow into early offensive actions that catch perimeter defenders sleeping and pressure weak side helpers into making a tough decision. Most of all, you imprint your tempo onto the game and control the narrative.
The Celtics have the player personnel to thrive in a slow offense, a fast offense, and anything in between. However, if you’re truly looking for someone to push the tempo and impact the flow of the game, then Pritchard is your guy.
Marcus Smart likes to set things up via screens, cuts, and post-entry passes. Derrick White is at his best when making decisions off the catch. Malcolm Brogdon thrives when given time to pound the rock and probe a defense.
Pritchard, however, is tailor-made to be a swing factor when you’re looking to hit the NOS button. With an exceptionally tight handle, jets that leave most airlines jealous, and a shooting range that rivals the Trae Youngs and Steph Currys of the world, Pritchard can create havoc against a defense that is full of aging, plodding veterans.
Moreover, Pritchard’s ability to vary his pace of play, find gaps in the defense, and utilize screeners to create opportunities, could help unlock some additional shooting pockets for Tatum and Brown. Regardless of his limitations, defenses have to respect his shooting ability and fearlessness when driving the lane.
Pritchard is also a willing passer and rarely allows the ball to stick in his hands when being part of the team’s offense, although he is capable of breaking down a defender off the dribble when the time is right.
Of course, there is the issue of hiding the diminutive guard on defense, but for the most part, Pritchard fights and claws for respect and is seldom culpable for a boneheaded play or being an unwilling participant when a game goes into the trenches.
Against the Atlanta Hawks, it was clear that Sam Hauser provided Boston with an advantage on the wing due to his movement shooting and floor spacing. As such, Hauser was provided with a boost in playing time and usurped Grant Williams from the rotation.
Now, I’m not saying the Pritchard should get minutes over one of the Celtics' top three guards, but if Joe Mazzulla was willing to gamble on Hauser’s impact in a series where he projected to have an edge, it would make sense if he did the same with Pritchard against the Sixers.
Sure, finding regular minutes without sacrificing rotational depth elsewhere will certainly be a challenge. Yet, if Mazzulla can carve out playing time for Blake Griffin and Mike Muscala, then surely he can find a way to slot Pritchard into the rotation for small spurts when the game is slowing down, and Philadelphia are implementing their game plan.
This could be the last few months of Pritchard’s tenure with the Celtics, and a solid showing against an Eastern Conference powerhouse could do wonders for his trade value, especially as a difference-making guard off the bench. As such, I would hope that Pritchard gets the ‘Sam Hauser’ treatment and (when it makes sense) can see the court for short stretches against the Sixers.