Payton Pritchard was a bright spot during Brad Stevens' final season coaching the Celtics and Danny Ainge's last one leading the team. He then balled out during the 2021 summer league and some Pro-Am games. At the least, Celtics fans expected a bit of a leap in season 2. But under Ime Udoka and Joe Mazzulla the last two seasons respectively his minutes have continued to dwindle.
Brad Stevens traded for Derrick White and Malcolm Brogdon, bumping Pritchard further down the guard depth chart, but most alarming was that it seemed Pritchard was unplayable in the playoffs. Well this coming season with Marcus Smart now in Memphis and Malcolm Brogdon's situation rather murky, could Pritchard be in line for a rebound in Boston?
The guess here is that the trade market for Pritchard wasn't anything worth moving him for. Maybe a team offered a couple 2nd rounders, but that wouldn't be worth it for Boston. Add in the Smart/Brogdon situations, coupled with the fact that Stevens when he was coach actually played Pritchard, there's a reason to believe he will get the shot he's wanted here in Boston this season.
Injuries are a part of the game, and you know Brogdon will miss some games. If Derrick White also misses any, Pritchard could be in line for some big minute nights on those occasions. He will need to make the most of those opportunities, shooting at a very high percentage from beyond the arc, and at least holding his own on defense.
Pritchard's lack of size and athleticism seem to be the main things holding him back, since neither Udoka nor Mazzulla were confident in him in the past two playoffs to play rotation minutes. If Pritchard is useless in the playoffs, than by this time next year, Payton will not be a member of the Boston Celtics. But the kid showed something as a 22 year old rookie, and recalling his play that season gives me at least some hope that he can break back into the team's rotation for good.
I believe with more playing time and shots his 3-point percentage will go back up, and I think his playmaking is underrated. With Smart gone, there will be more opportunities for Pritchard to play a more true point when he's on the court than off the ball.
In the current everyone switches NBA, small guards like former Celtics Isaiah Thomas or Kemba Walker seem to be picked on even more on defense in the playoffs. Yess injuries are the main reasons that Thomas and Walker have been relegated to fringe NBA players, but position-less switchable basketball is also to blame.
Despite what fans may wish and Thomas might think, he's never going to stick in any NBA team's rotation ever again. He'd have to shoot close to 50% on 3's and with a great assist to turnover ratio to offset what he gives up on defense. Thomas is the extreme. Pritchard isn't as bad of a defender for sure, but the point is he needs to offset his defensive liabilities, by shooting the lights out. Same goes for every non-athletic NBA player in today's game.
I believe Pritchard can be that shooter for the Celtics. Sam Hauser has a size advantage for sure, but we actually saw Pritchard do it in NBA games (as a rookie). I think betting on someone with a track record of previous success is a safer bet.
It's a sink or swim season for Payton and if Pritchard is player who a team can have be a part of championship playoff rotation, we shall find out this coming campaign.
Payton Pritchard regular season stats (via Basketball-Reference):