By Shawn Dennis
Some of you may know him as the Oregon boy who was named Pac-12 Player of the Year in the 2019-2020 NCAA season. Maybe you heard the name after he won the Bob Cousy Award for best point guard in college basketball, with players like Kemba Walker and Ja Morant being previous winners. Perhaps you have no clue who this current Boston Celtics player is. Well, you’re about to find out.
With arguably the steal of the draft thus far, the Celtics grabbed the senior from Oregon with the 26th pick in the first round. Taking over the #11 jersey after you know who wore it last, the Pritchard pick by Danny Ainge was certainly confusing for a lot of Celtic’s fans with players like Tre Jones, Udoka Azubuike, and Vernon Carey all still available. Having a lack of depth in the front court, everyone was assuming that Ainge was going to target a big man if they weren’t able to work out a trade, which was inevitably what happened when Gordon Hayward walked to Charlotte. However, with the absence of Kemba Walker for at least a month to start the season, Boston had to make a move for another ball handler.
The 22-year-old, 6’1”, 195 pound guard had some question marks next to his name as to where he would fit in the roster, with guards like Carsen Edwards and Tremont Waters already having a year in the league under their belt. What they don’t have that Pritchard possesses, however, is what a Brad Stevens style-of-play thrives on: versatility and tenacity. Having only played 5 games, Payton’s already had a tremendous impact on the team. He’s averaged 22 minutes off the bench, 8.2 points per game, and shooting 55 percent from three, which he was known for throughout college. Stevens already has a great deal of trust in Payton, as he’s been given opportunities to play in crunch time because of his shooting abilities. The one downside to his game is his defense. of course. Not to say he can’t hold his own or doesn’t have hustle, but it’s difficult for any undersized guard to cover off the switch when you play against 7-footers on a regular basis.
What makes Pritchard the steal of the draft is how under the radar he was coming into it. Most NBA analysts and insiders didn’t even have him going in the first round, nevermind to a playoff contending team in Boston. The Celtics have proven their scouting game has done well with the young talent they’ve drafted over the last 5 seasons or so (Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum). It’s clearly far too soon to tell if Payton Pritchard will be an elite guard, but what he’s been able to accomplish and the expectations going into this season are why he’s been the steal of the draft for me already.
Being called “the GOAT” by teammate Jaylen Brown in a post game interview after the come from behind victory against the Pacers may help his case a little too.