Searching for a Role: Payton Pritchard in 22/23
There is no other team in the NBA during the offseason that has made a bigger splash than the Boston Celtics. Brad Stevens has taken a team that made it all the way to the NBA Finals last season and made it even better. None of its rotational pieces are out the door, and with those intact, both Malcolm Brogdon and Danilo Gallinari add something the Celtics lacked during their lengthy run through the Eastern Conference last season. With these two new additions, especially the acquisition of Brogdon, Payton Pritchard is left another spot down the depth chart, but that may not be the whole story.
The former Oregan guard took his game to the next level in his sophomore season, becoming an even more reliable player on both the offensive end and the defensive end. His size at just 6'1'' limits him, especially as an on-ball defender, but the effort is consistently through the roof every game. Pritchard was the second-best three-point shooter last season for Boston on a team that desperately needed consistent shooters after the season prior. Pritchard breathes Celtics' pride, and grit in the way he plays the game of basketball, but due to the talent of this loaded squad, Pritchard may be left asking himself if he deserves more than just sitting on the bench.
In his exit interview following the season, Pritchard gave a look into what he wants his role to be next year, stating, "My first goal is finding consistent minutes every night and where I can gain the trust where I can be out there 20 minutes per night, instead of it fluctuating. Earn that right and be trusted to do that game in and game out and deliver, shots will fall."
Boston brought in Dennis Schröder to try to supplement Marcus Smart in his starting role, but that did not turn out as well as the team anticipated. Stevens then went out and acquired Derrick White to serve as one of the first players off the bench. Pritchard has never been given the keys as the consistent backup point guard, and with Brogdon now on board, the Celtics on the surface may be telling the former Oregon Duck that he is going to have to work harder than he ever has before in order to find the minutes that he desires. With the size that Brogdon and White possess, Pritchard is going to have a much more defined role next season as one of the key ball handlers. Brogdon and play off the ball, and so can White at times, so if Udoka wants to give the keys to Pritchard more frequently during the regular season, the two guards ahead of him on the bench have the positional flexibility that the former Oregon product may need to secure more time on the floor.
Pritchard played about five minutes less in his second season than he did in his rookie year, but his offensive and defensive rating both increased. His ability to spread the floor, and make effort plays on each end of the court give him game time, but with another obstacle, Pritchard is going to have to play out of his mind to earn playing time with his size. Pritchard has just two years left on his rookie contract, and if he wants to stay in Boston for the foreseeable future, this is going to have to be a statement year for him. Acquiring consistent minutes on a roster that is this deep is going to be nearly insurmountable, but if history tells the world anything, it is that Pritchard does not back down from a challenge.
Out of all the players on Boston that played in 70 or more games in the regular season, Pritchard was one of three players along with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown with a Player Efficiency Rating of over 14.9. He had the best shooting efficiency on the team in the regular season of any guard that played more than one contest. He made the fourth most three-pointers per game in the regular season for the Celtics but given the current state of the team, he is going to be fighting for minutes once again despite a fantastic year where Boston saw improvement in many areas of his game.
There is a multitude of areas in this young man's game to grow, and during the regular season, Ime Udoka will find minutes for Pritchard, but in the postseason, his 12.9 minutes is going to be hard to come by once again. He averaged 18.1 minutes per game after the All-Star break but with the want of 20 consistent minutes on a revamped team, it just does not seem reasonable. In specific moments or in matchups that Udoka may like, Pritchard will likely get the nob more often than in others, but it is all up to what he does this offseason to take his game to the next level that is going to decide how much Udoke relies upon on Pritchard.
In a franchise that depends on winning year in and year out, it is hard to crack into the rotation when the front office is constantly trying to upgrade. On the bright side, this should motivate Pritchard, even more, to succeed going forward when someone always wants to replace him with a veteran point guard that can make plays for himself along with his teammates. It is clear to NBA fans that Pritchard is a pure shooter that can handle the ball effectively, and if Udoka plans to play Brogdon off the ball, Pritchard could carve himself a nice role in this loaded rotation.
On the surface it may seem like Pritchard is going to be losing a large number of minutes on the floor, and he might, but with the versatility of the players that Stevens added to the roster, Pritchard could find himself a role that earns him around 20 minutes per game. Even on a team that possesses an immense amount of depth, Pritchard's competitiveness has always been the one constant which is one of the reasons why Boston drafted him in the first place. This upcoming season is going to be the turning point of Pritchard's career and while the uniqueness of the individuals on the Celtics allows him to play even with his size, there are plenty of areas that this 24-year-old guard can tune up for next season. His No. 1 flaw has been his defense and given his effort, and production Pritchard deserves a role on this contending Boston team once again.