For the record, Payton Pritchard is not some secret weapon the Boston Celtics have been hiding in plain sight. He will more likely than not never make any all-star teams, and the jury’s still out on whether he’ll even be a starter on a winning team. No, the most accurate way to describe Pritchard is someone who has gotten the short end of the stick more often than he’s deserved. It’s a shame because Pritchard showed almost immediately that he had some promise.
It may seem like a distant memory now – plus, it happened during a season that the Celtics would love to erase – but it only took eight games into Pritchard’s Celtics tenure for him to leave a good enough first impression that Celtics YouTuber Tomasz Kordylewski made a highlight reel of him.
No, seriously, speaking non-hyperbolically, it took almost no time at all for Pritchard to take to Boston Celtics fans. Literally hours after Kordylewski’s reel of him was published, Pritchard had his finest moment in his rookie season.
The early takeaways from Pritchard were that he was an energy player who was not afraid to get his hands dirty, not afraid to let it fly, and, most importantly of all, not afraid of the moment. Because the 2020-21 Celtics were the most forgettable team of the Tatum/Brown era – do Celtics fans even remember the Jeff Teague experience nowadays? – Pritchard managing to hit the ground running, knowing the little expectations he had going in, fell through the cracks pretty quickly.
For example, Pritchard put up a season-high 28 points in a home loss. To the Oklahoma City Thunder. Who was blatantly tanking. Not to mention missing Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
Yet another reminder that that season was insufferable, but this writer digresses. Pritchard’s play at the time didn’t necessarily scream “sensational,” but it still stood out enough that no one questioned if he was a keeper.
But then, the next two seasons happened.
Payton Pritchard was shelved by the Boston Celtics for reasons that had little to do with him
Pritchard showed enough to warrant more playing time, but his role with the Boston Celtics has only diminished substantially over the last two seasons. To be fair, none of that was on him or the Celtics. Anyone would have added Dennis Schroder and Malcolm Brogdon for peanuts if given the chance around the time they were brought in. But what made it painful in Pritchard’s case was that he was initially shelved for two consecutive seasons.
Not to mention that the second time, Pritchard never got the chance to prove he belonged in the rotation. It’s not his fault Brogdon turned out to fit much better than Teague and Schroder, but that’s just how the cookie crumbled for Pritchard. Luckily for him, that threat is no longer present. At least, there shouldn’t be. With Marcus Smart traded and the Celtics not adding any guards to the roster, they’re sending a message to Pritchard – this is your chance.
Pritchard seems well aware of what’s ahead, as he said as much while talking with The Boston Globe’s Adam Himmelsbach.
“If I get the opportunity to play, I’ve got to show what I’m capable of and that I can help win at a high level,” Pritchard said. “So I’m just looking forward to the opportunity of showcasing that. At the end of the day, I’m a winner and am obviously going to help Jaylen (Brown) and Jayson (Tatum) because those are the two that are pushing us, but we’ve all got to help them get over the hump, and ultimately win a championship.”
Even though he’s proven before that he can produce at times when given some burn, Payton Pritchard has yet to show that he is a consistent rotation player over the course of an entire season for a contender. Last season, he definitely had his moments to shine.
He had standout performances for the undermanned Celtics in games that mattered…
And he had standout performances for the undermanned Celtics that didn’t matter in the slightest.
Now the narrative surrounding Pritchard is that he deserved more than playing only occasionally, which the team had no choice but to force him to do. Now it’s on him to show that he should never be in the doghouse ever again. Even if Pritchard has been an afterthought for the majority of the last two years, the offseason moves the Boston Celtics have made have let him know that they were, in fact, paying attention despite not getting much time.
A bigger role for FastPP is warranted because he has proven he should be on the floor, but it’s not a foolproof plan. The primary reason why he’ll get playing time is that he’s proven he can shoot, sporting a three-point percentage of 40% from distance per Basketball-Reference. That spacing will be an asset whether his three-ball is falling or not. The Celtics likely won’t demand Pritchard to be more than a floor-spacer who keeps within the flow of the offense. Still, they’re now going to see if they truly can withstand Pritchard’s small stature (for an NBA player) on defense and if he can routinely score in other areas besides spotting up from three.
What Pritchard has proven is that while he’s far from the likes of Isaiah Thomas or Rajon Rondo, he’s also a massive step up from the likes of Carsen Edwards or Tremont Waters. MassLive’s Brian Robb revealed that the Celtics are “very high” on Pritchard coming into the 2023-24 season for a reason.
In fact, if the rumors about Brogdon’s issues with the Celtics are true, a potentially even bigger role for Pritchard could be coming sooner rather than later, but that’s thinking far too down the line. Last year, Pritchard’s challenge was staying ready for when the Celtics called his name. Now that the training wheels are coming off once and for all, his next challenge is showing that his impact on the team was well worth the wait.