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Payton Pritchard’s presence gives Celtics breathing room to trade

Reports of the point guard’s potential exit could be put on hold depending on Boston’s future moves.

2023 NBA Playoffs - Boston Celtics v Miami Heat Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Just a few weeks into the offseason, and it’s already been a summer of change for the Boston Celtics. They traded long-time fan favorite Marcus Smart to the Memphis Grizzlies in a three-team deal for Kristaps Porzingis, completely altering the team's foundation.

The move sent shockwaves throughout Celtics Nation, as fans immediately cried out for the heart and soul of the team to return, criticizing the move through green-colored goggles.

Porzingis’ addition to the lineup will undoubtedly help Boston push forward, as the former All-Star put up career numbers last season, and while Smart’s departure will continue to sting, Derrick White and Malcolm Brogdon are waiting in the wings to step up.

However, despite Brad Stevens’ supposed confidence in Brogdon’s abilities heading into next season, bringing him back into the fold is an eyebrow-raiser. That’s not to say Brogdon isn’t capable. He’s coming off a Sixth Man of the Year season. Having him in Boston playing that role again would be great, but how does he feel about it?

Maybe Brogdon is a complete professional and will forget about the past week's events, but for about five hours, he was traded. The Celtics shipped him off the LA Clippers in a Porzingis trade that never happened. And with the reports that Boston isn’t done making moves, there’s a chance he’s still traded.

That may sound like a scary proposition considering Smart is already gone. Going from three starting-caliber guards to one is a massive shift, but it could be made possible by the real winner of the Smart trade, Payton Pritchard.

For the past year, it was a safe assumption that Pritchard wouldn’t be on the Celtics by the start of the 2023-24 season. He spent the entirety of this past year glued to the bench, used sparingly in moments when Boston needed a spark.

The offseason began with rumblings that Pritchard could be on his way out of Boston, but now, it looks like he could receive an elevated role in the Celtics’ offense.

Assuming Derrick White takes over the starting role, the Celtics should feel comfortable having Pritchard as the primary backup point guard next season. If they trade Brogdon, adding a third-string guy would be necessary, but if Stevens feels extra help on the wing is more important than Brogdon, Pritchard will be ready and capable.

A season of sitting on the sidelines may have some forgetting what Pritchard is capable of. His three-point percentage dropped this past year, but that was simply a byproduct of his inconsistent playing time. If a shooter isn’t given minutes to generate a night-to-night rhythm, his touch will fade.

In his first two seasons in the league in which he played at least 65 games each year, Pritchard shot 41.1% and 41.2% from deep, respectively. That’s the definition of consistency, especially considering he attempted virtually the same number of shots (248 3PA his rookie season, 245 3PA his sophomore season).

Pritchard’s numbers are on par, or better, than the average backup point guard in the NBA. During his rookie season, when he played just over 19 minutes a night, Pritchard averaged 7.7 points, 2.4 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per game.

This past year, only six backup point guards (min. 65 games played off the bench) put up those numbers or better while coming off the bench - Brogdon, Immanuel Quickley, TJ McConnell, Cole Anthony, and Coby White - and only 10 guards achieved the feat at all.

Obviously, if the Celtics decide to trade Brogdon, bringing in more guards will be important. Running with White and Pritchard as the only guards on the roster isn’t a great gameplan. But Pritchard would be a fine choice for the backup role, providing Stevens with some breathing room regarding who he targets in potential trades.

Boston entered last season with a glutton of guards, and throughout the year, it became clear that the cluster came at the cost of positional variance across the roster. Now, they’re being forced to clear things up.

But the fact that they had so many capable guards means they now have plenty of trade assets to work with, and considering Brogdon’s contract and value, he’s the logical choice if the Celtics decide to make another trade.

Maybe that trade involves Pritchard. But if it doesn’t, and if Brogdon is the one to go, the Celtics should feel great sliding Pritchard into the full-time backup point guard role.

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