Pritchard has had to claw his way into the Celtics rotation for the last two seasons, proving himself to Brad Stevens and then Ime Udoka. However, the six-foot-one guard has earned his stripes under both coaches and has continued to prove he’s an NBA-caliber guard in the process.
In fact, during game two of the Celtics playoff series against the Brooklyn Nets, Pritchard came in clutch, scoring four fourth-quarter buckets to help put the game beyond reach. But, despite his late-game heroics, NBA analyst Nick Wright took issue with Brooklyn failing to contain the sophomore guard and sounded off about Pritchard’s limitations as a player.
“Payton Pritchard is a six-foot-two inch scorer who was a great college player, who most of us thought would be an unplayable playoff player because he’s such a disaster defensively. You should be able to attack him every single time down the court, like a perimeter Enes Kanter.
They played him 16 minutes last night and were plus-15 in those minutes, because not once did they say ‘maybe attack the tiny slow kid who has no business being out there.’ Nope, just let him be out there, help them on offense and you don’t punish him on defense, that’s on coaching,” Wright said on a recent episode of The Undisputed.
Pritchard Answered Udoka’s Challenge
If you want to earn playing time under Ime Udoka, you have to prove you’re more than a single-skilled asset. For Pritchard, that means showing the coaching staff that he’s capable of performing off-ball duties on the offensive end, and holding his own on the defensive side of the ball.
Since Dennis Schroder was traded at the February 10 trade deadline, Pritchard has found consistent minutes and has given Udoka everything he’s asked for from the second-year guard.
“He’s obviously one of our best shooters, but the trick for him was to learn to play off the ball more. And understand that we have Marcus, Derrick, Jayson, and Jaylen that can all handle and create shots for him. At times, he’s a great screener and popper, he mixes it up and we bring some smaller matchups into it, so he’s done a great job of not just handling it, but playing off the ball,” Udoka told the media when asked about Pritchard’s recent improvements.
In the 26 games Pritchard has played since Schroder’s departure, he has provided the Celtics with 8.6 points, 2.5 assists, and 2.5 rebounds per game on 48.2% shooting from the field and 45.5% shooting from deep. Furthermore, the Oregon native has also shown growth as an on-ball defender and has refused to shy away from tough matchups, which has forced teams to rethink targeting him on the defensive end.
Pritchard is Situational in the Playoffs
Pritchard’s ability to stretch the floor and score in bunches holds enormous value for the Celtics bench. Throughout the season, the Celtics have struggled to find an offensive punch when Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown take a breather, and that issue has only been exasperated if the team’s stars are struggling from the field.
Pritchard has proven himself to be a viable sparkplug, whose limitless shooting range forces defenses into tough situations. Boston uses the sophomore guard as an off-ball screener to get Tatum opportunities on the wing, but also asks Pritchard to position himself a few feet outside of the perimeter, which forces defenses to bend to Udoka’s will.
Sure, the diminutive guard is never going to be a lock-down defender, but he is deceptively strong and has underrated pace – two attributes that will help you tread water when the pressure is on.
So, while it’s unlikely we see Pritchard earn a consistent role throughout the playoffs, he’s certainly a player you can turn to if you need offense in a pinch, and that’s precisely what he provided in the second game of the Celtics playoff series, and will likely provide again before the post-season reaches its conclusion.