Everything seemed to be going according to plan for Payton Pritchard over the summer. There were some exquisite performances during the Boston Celtics summer league and a 92 point outing at a Portland Pro-Am game to boot.
And then the Celtics signed veteran point guard Dennis Schroder. From that point forwards, Pritchard has seldom seen the floor for the Celtics and has failed to impress when given the opportunity.
As a second-year guard in the NBA, Pritchard always had his ups and downs; they don’t call it a sophomore slump for nothing! Yet, Pritchard’s level of production has fallen off a cliff to start the year, especially with his three-point shooting, which had been his calling card since entering the professional ranks.
In his 18 appearances thus far this season, Basketball-Reference has tracked the Oregon native as shooting 23.3% from deep on 1.7 attempts per game, an enormous drop-off from his 41.1% shooting last season. Pritchard has also seen his rebounding numbers and foul drawing decrease too, which could be a symptom of his reduced role and illustrate how the second-year guard is struggling to create an impact.
Most young players operate on rhythm and momentum, something that’s hard to generate when your role within the team is constantly fluctuating. Furthermore, Pritchard is now operating in a new system that predicates more ball movement and penetration, which may be impacting his willingness to fire away from deep the way he did last year.
Celtics Insider Suggests Sending Pritchard to Maine
In a recent article for MassLive, Celtics insider Brian Robb suggested giving Pritchard some run with the Maine Celtics in the G-League to rebuild his confidence.
“Whether Boston’s front office opts to get him some reps with the Maine Celtics remains to be seen as the rest of the roster gets closer to full health. For now, it’s a tough spot for the Oregon product, which looked like a sure thing to be a major factor off Boston’s bench for the second straight season after standout summer league,” Robb wrote.
Pritchard projected to be one of Boston’s more impactful bench players throughout the summer, with numerous reports surfacing about his work ethic and commitment to improving his game. Yet, for all his hard work, Pritchard has found himself struggling to reproduce the level of play that saw many label the guard a steal during his rookie season.
Suffering a nose injury to begin the year, Pritchard has played most of his games behind a protective mask, which may or may not have impacted his line of sight.
Of course, we can’t blame the mask for the 2020 first-round picks continued struggles, but it’s possible that wearing the protective gear is what initially led to him hitting a rough patch.
“He missed all three of his shots in 10 minutes against the Raptors on Sunday night, continuing a horrid slump for the usual sharpshooter in the month of November. During that span, Pritchard is shooting just 14 percent from the field (4-of-27) and 2-of-14 from 3-point range.” Robb detailed in his piece.
Pritchard Isn’t the Only Sophomore Celtics to Struggle.
While Pritchard’s struggles are becoming a point of contention for some Celtics fans, he’s not the only one failing to impress in his second season as a professional. Fellow 2020 draft pick Aaron Nesmith is also struggling to get into a consistent role within the offense this year.
Like Pritchard, Nesmith finished the 2020-21 season strong and was trusted to perform during the Celtics maiden playoff-round against the Brooklyn Nets. Yet, after an encouraging showing during summer league, the sharpshooting wing hasn’t found consistency in the regular season.
According to Basketball-Reference, Nesmith’s struggles have been somewhat similar to his sophomore teammates, with the three-point specialist converting just 21.1% of his three-point attempts and just 31.4% of his overall field goal attempts. Another aspect of Nesmith’s play that endeared him to the Celtics faithful last season was his hustle play, yet this year that eagerness has led to the young wing being caught out of position and looking lost on defense.
The struggles of Pritchard and Nesmith are slightly problematic, too, as the two young prospects are the team’s best low-usage floor spacers, and if they could find their shooting form, they would transform the Celtics bench entirely. Alas, the downside to having young talent sitting towards the end of the bench is that they will often struggle to perform due to being out of rhythm, leading to players questioning themselves and playing timidly.
Perhaps Robb is right, Pritchard could do with some reps in the G-League to boost his confidence and get him going again, but the Celtics would also be well-served to send Nesmith to Maine. Having both sophomore’s playing free and hitting shots would be a massive win for the Celtics as they enter the holiday period.