The off-season acquisition of Dennis Schroder was seen as a major coup for the Boston Celtics, but unfortunately it negatively impacted Payton Pritchard’s ability to find a rhythm early in the season. Ime Udoka, like most new head coaches, trusted the veterans in Boston’s roster, and the younger players fought for leftovers.
But then, on December 4, Pritchard had a night to remember, losing 19 points at the Portland Trail Blazers, dominating the fourth quarter and sending his hometown crowd into a frenzy.
I’d like to say that game was a turning point in Pritchard’s season, but in truth it was simply a platform that allowed him to fight for a permanent role within the team. Ultimately Pritchard’s breakthrough didn’t materialize until Schroder was traded and suddenly there was a clear path to minutes for the second watch and we began to see what Pritchard was capable of on a consistent basis.
Let’s be fair: 8-Mile got playing time with Schroder on the squad but the minutes have been inconsistent and when you’re a shooter, consistent chances are everything. It also didn’t help that Pritchard played in a mask for part of the season due to a broken nose, and yes, the mask affected his shooting.
“I just finished wearing it. It’s kind of annoying to wear. It takes away some of your vision. It’s just so different. If I break my nose, I’ll break my nose. It’s a bit early, but it is what it is. I’m just done with it.”
After Schroder moved on, Pritchard participated in every remaining game of the regular season, averaging 18 minutes per game and shooting 46.6% from deep on 4.8 attempts per game.
For a Celtics team plagued by irregularities in shooting from depth during the first half of the season, Pritchard’s introduction to the main rotation paid immediate dividends as teams had little choice but to adjust their pickup points given his limitless shooting range. And suddenly, the bench unit offered impressive distance, and the team’s slashers had more room to maneuver.
Aside from just clearing the ground, we saw Udoka begin to trust Pritchard in a larger off-ball role, often working as a screener or editor to generate better opportunities for his teammates. In fact, a large portion of Boston’s inverted screens (unfortunately, this is not tracked) was set by the sniper guard.
“He’s obviously one of our best shooters and always has been so it was just a matter of opportunity to put him in that spot as I mentioned and he learned to play on and off the ball, some others Things to do than He’s done,” Ime Udoka explained as Pritchard was given a bigger role on offense.
Then came the playoffs and Pritchard became a defensive target due to his limited size. Instead of shrinking under the pressure, we began to see the dog in him as he struggled and fought for every possession – refusing to be used as an easy route to the basket.
That’s always the problem with smaller guards – they’re prone to being chased by an offense. We saw Kemba Walker suffer a similar fate in 2020. Yet Pritchard never backs down, no matter the size of the task or the opponent’s level of talent – and that has endeared him to both the coaching staff and fan base.
Throughout the postseason, Pritchard averaged 12.9 minutes per game and made 24 cameo appearances, although his perimeter shooting declined and he converted just 33.3% of his 3 tries per night. But already in his second season in the NBA, the little security guard came off the bench for a rival team and helped his team reach the NBA Finals.
Now as we look ahead to next season it is clear that Pritchard needs to develop as an off-ball guard as that is clearly the role Udoka envisions for him and the best way for him to establish himself within the rotational movement of the Teams to consolidate forward.
“My first goal is to find consistent minutes each night and gain the confidence where I can be out there 20 minutes a night instead of it faltering. If you earn that right and trust that you’re going to play that game in and out and deliver, shots will be fired,” Pritchard said during his exit interview with the media.
Fast PP came into this season after an ideal summer but encountered some significant obstacles when things were underway. Hopefully Pritchard can continue to develop with his coaches and coaching staff this summer and cement himself in Udoka’s rotation next season because his shooting, ball handling and winning mentality give the Celtics a boost off the bench and that’s something you can do never guarantee when you enter the free agent market for a veteran pickup.