Payton Pritchard might be more than the Boston Celtics' wildcard

Even in a land of giants, Boston Celtics' guard Payton Prichard knows a thing or two about being amongst the trees.

Detroit Pistons v Boston Celtics
Detroit Pistons v Boston Celtics / Maddie Meyer/GettyImages

The "kid from West Linn" is finally having his standout NBA moment. After a sluggish start, Payton Pritchard has found his groove. His radiant swagger, which made him a TD Garden favorite, has returned, and there might be no turning back. Everything is starting to click. As formulaic as the Boston Celtics' tend to be, Pritchard is beginning to change the equation.

This revival didn't come out of nowhere. Pritchard was a high school phenom, winning four state titles and Oregon Gatorade Player of the Year in 2015. Despite the unparalleled success, he struggled to find consistent minutes when he started his collegiate career at the University of Oregon. As his freshman season progressed and he got more opportunities, it was undeniable Pritchard was a budding star.

In an unheralded move, Ducks coach Dana Altman looked past the team's lofty expectations and benched tenured starting point guard Casey Benson in favor of the younger but more talented Pritchard. Although he struggled from the field in the NCAA tournament, he was a prominent contributor to Oregon's run to the Final Four. The signs of determination and ability were always apparent.

By the time his senior season rolled around, the Ducks were his team. Pritchard won Pac-12 Player of the Year and the Bob Cousy Award for the nation's best point guard as he paired elite shot-making with dazzling passing ability. His intangibles set him apart from other top names in the country.

The confidence to pull from anywhere on the court and the brashness to tell you about it exuded leadership that transcended the television screen. Even at just six-foot-two, he would hound opponents on the defensive end, picking more pockets than a school bully. He had flare and oozed cockiness, but he backed it up on the court.

Pritchard played himself into being a first-round pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, and he's been a member of the Boston Celtics ever since. While nobody expected him to be Steve Nash 2.0, his time here has been a rollercoaster of inconsistency, leaving fans with plenty of questions and hypotheticals.

It's fair to say Pritchard is just a bench guy—but I think he's more than that. The Celtics have a true wildcard, and he might be more impactful than you think.

Payton Pritchard gives the Boston Celtics a secret weapon

On a team that can be rather stoic, Pritchard offers an injection of personality. Whether it's somehow silencing Patrick Beverley or gesturing toward the Garden crowd after hitting a triple, he brings a particular fire that's not as visible throughout the roster.

Everyone brings energy in the playoffs, but it's special to have a role player who is who can impress the fans and his teammates.

Pritchard's greatest gift is his ability to set the tempo of a game. His speed creates can generate chaos—a skill you can't teach. He puts immense pressure on defenses by racing up the court, often creating a lane to the basket or freeing a shooter for an open three.

With the ball in his hands, he can break down defenders with crafty dribbling, a trait he once excelled at as the Ducks' primary scoring option.

Many see Pritchard as just a spot-up deep-range shooter, which he is capable of, but he's started to excel beyond that. His lateral quickness lets him find his shot off the dribble against larger defenders. Paired with pinpoint passing, he has all the tools to be an anchor of a second unit.

The Celtics' offense can dry up when they regress into playing "hero ball." Pritchard's ability to stop the bleeding by getting others involved or scoring in bunches is an underrated asset that's been imperative in recent months.

His biggest challenge to staying on the court was his size on the defensive end. Where the college game has players with length spaced out, every NBA team has immense size. Pritchard benefits from being on a team littered with All-Defensive caliber talent and compensates for his glaring weakness. 

The Boston Celtics have a weapon that can shift the course of a game or be a calming presence while keeping his foot on the gas. Don't be shocked when he wins this team a playoff game in the quest for Banner 18. Payton Pritchard is here, and he's legit.

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