‘He Can Run the Show’: Rising Celtic Making Strong Case for Starting Role

Payton Pritchard making push for starting role

Getty Payton Pritchard #11 of the Boston Celtics shoots against Tarik Black #28 of the Denver Nuggets.

Kemba Walker is no longer manning the point guard position in Boston. Instead, he’ll be roaming the court for the Atlantic rival New York Knicks in 2021. While Walker was pricey and all too often injured during his stint in Beantown, his exit does eliminate a sound amount of production from the Celtics’ lineup — he averaged 19.3 points and 4.9 assists in 39 games last season.

Despite this loss, president Brad Stevens chose not to be aggressive in filling the position this summer. They did still manage to land a potential bargain in Dennis Schroder in free agency, while head coach Ime Udoka has publically announced his plans to “put the ball in Marcus [Smart]’s hands a lot more” next season. Add in second-year pro Payton Pritchard, as well as the additions of Kris Dunn and guard/forward Josh Richardson — whom Udoka has lauded for his ball-handling skills — and the Celtics have more than a few backcourt options at their disposal.

With that said, Pritchard’s development this summer may throw a wrench into Boston’s plans at a point guard — albeit a good one. The Oregon product set the internet ablaze with his 92-point outing at a recent Portland Pro-Am game. Yet, it’s been his performance in Summer League that has The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie believing the Celtics may have stumbled upon a future starter at the position.

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Pritchard is ‘Too Good For Summer League’

Pritchard, 23, has made light work of his competition in the Summer League this year. In three games, the Tualatin native has averaged 20.3 points on 51.4% shooting from the field and 57.7% from beyond the arc. He’s also chipped in with 8.7 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 2.0 steals. Prior to leaving the team for an excused absence, he was leading the entire Summer League in made 3-pointers (15) and assists (26).

Pritchard’s play proved earned him the “captain” slot on Vecenie‘s “2021 Too Good For Summer League Team,” and in his words, may eventually land him a starting gig in the Celtics’ backcourt.

Pritchard was the most effective player I saw at summer league this year, which shouldn’t come as a total surprise given that he’s coming off of a season where he deservedly earned votes for the All-Rookie team. There was never a moment where he was hurried or rushed. His poise stood out to the utmost degree to the point that he almost looked bored while also trying to make dudes look ridiculous trying to defend his step-back game…

Having long been more of a jump-stop passer, Pritchard threw a couple of impressive one-handed live dribble looks with confidence that make me think he can run the show as a starting guard at some point for this Celtics core.

Is Pritchard the Answer at Point Guard for the Celtics?

The odds of Pritchard usurping Smart, or even Schroder in the rotation this season isn’t exactly sky-high. Then again, depending on how Udoka chooses to deploy his versatile backcourt, the former Pac-12 Player of the Year could easily see a jump in usage from the 19.2 minutes per game he averaged as a rookie.

With the Celtics yet to extend Smart on his expiring contract, and Schroder eyeing a big payday next summer, Pritchard has the next 12-odd months to make his case for a starting role heading into next offseason. Even if he falls short, he certainly has the look of a mainstay piece in the team’s guard rotation moving forward.

In the meantime, we’ll get one last chance to watch the point guard dazzle in Summer League play, as he’s announced on Twitter that he’s headed back to Vegas to re-join the Celtics in time for Tuesday’s Championship game against the Kings.


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