When the Boston Celtics used the 26th overall pick in last year’s draft to take a senior point guard from Oregon, I wasn’t too impressed.
Not that I didn’t think Payton Pritchard was a good player but I liked the other point guard prospects around him a little more (Malachi Flynn, Grant Riller, etc.).
After a full season of watching Pritchard, however, I’d like to spearhead the bandwagon. I’ve even gone as far as to say that I’m ready for the Celtics to announce his contract extension as soon as tomorrow.
He was very impressive as a 3-point shooter and as an on-ball defender, which are two things that reminded me of another guard that played four years of college before going undrafted and signing with the Toronto Raptors.
Yes, I’m talking about Fred VanVleet.
First off, it’s interesting to see that the two players had very similar stat lines in their respective age 23 seasons:
- VanVleet averaged eight points, three assists, and two rebounds in 20 minutes a night while shooting 41 percent from deep
- Pritchard averaged eight points, two assists, and two rebounds in 19 minutes a night while shooting 41 percent from deep
Luckily for VanVleet, he was welcomed with an opportunity in the seasons after this to expand his role in Toronto, eventually earning his way to a sixth man spot on the 2019 Raptors team that won the NBA Finals.
His 3-point shooting off the bench and scoring, in general, played a huge part in Toronto being able to take down a Golden State team that, though riddled with injuries, was still a good team.
Pritchard may actually find himself in a similar situation. The Boston Celtics are poised for a big year with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown playing the best basketball of their young careers and will be in need of role players to step up.
Getting back to VanVleet, though — while the hype surrounding him might have died down since the 2019 playoff run, he has improved as an NBA player every season.
VanVleet has quietly become one of the better two-way guards in the league. He scored just a hair under 20 points per game last season and, though his 3-point shooting percentage took a dip, he was taking over nine a game which was near the top of all players.
Not to mention, VanVleet was a legit all-defensive team candidate who was shown little respect by the voters.
All of these accomplishments are things that Payton Pritchard should be striving for as he continues to grow in the NBA.
The one area that I would especially love to see Pritchard try to emulate from VanVleet is his playmaking.
VanVleet has had back-to-back seasons of averaging over six assists per game.
Even though Pritchard’s playmaking doesn’t look as promising as of now, he did average around five per game at Oregon from his sophomore season on which was also very similar to VanVleet’s career at Wichita State.
But even if he doesn’t accomplish that aspect for a few years, the Boston Celtics are still in need of reliable point guard play as they head into free agency.
And because the Cs already have Tatum and Brown to carry a majority of the scoring load, it would be best to find a guard that can space the floor and play defense, which is exactly what Pritchard brought to the table during his rookie season.
It will be interesting to see what Boston does with the point guard position this offseason because, despite Pritchard having a promising future, he should not be relied upon to deliver come game one of the season.
With that being said, he should absolutely continue to see expanded opportunities, especially now with Kemba Walker off the roster.
Luckily, Celtics fans will get a look at Pritchard prior to the regular season as he will finally make his summer league debut over the next few months.
At the end of the day, Payton Pritchard is currently the best option in terms of the Celtics having a longer-term solution at guard. I think he fits their timeline a whole lot better than any prospect they may consider taking in this year’s draft.
He excels in the aspects of the game that Boston needs to surround their stars with and there’s still plenty of time to get better at other areas of the game as well, like playmaking.
Pritchard doesn’t even have to become a Chris Paul-level playmaker to help this team, he just needs to be able to move the ball and initiate the offense.
One thing I know for sure is that if Fred VanVleet was available last offseason and the Boston Celtics had the money to get him — he would be near the very top of my wishlist to help this team get a ring.
Hopefully, for Boston’s sake, they can get a similar player for much cheaper in a year or two once Pritchard is more developed as an NBA player.