Have the Boston Celtics Found Something in Payton Pritchard?

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I will start off by acknowledging that four games is WAY too small of a sample size to make a definitive judgment on a rookie.  However, you cannot ignore what you have seen from Payton Pritchard through the first four games of the season. 

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

I'll be the first to admit that I was wrong about Pritchard.  After the draft, I thought he was going to end up as another Tremont Waters, Carsen Edwards, Phil Pressey type.  A point guard who sits at the end of the bench, gets minimal minutes, and doesn't make any real type of contribution.  Well, not only has Pritchard seen consistent minutes early on, he's seeing significant minutes.

Pritchard is currently fifth on the team in minutes per game (22).  In Tuesday night's victory over the Indiana Pacers, he played 27 minutes, including almost all of the fourth quarter in which the Celtics turned an 11 point deficit into a five point victory.  Pritchard's play helped key that rally.

Through Brad Stevens' first seven years as Head Coach of the Celtics, he's been associated with a "rookie wall".  Essentially, rookies have difficulty cracking Stevens' rotations until he can trust them; mainly on the defensive side of the ball.  Pritchard has barreled through that proverbial wall like the Kool-Aid Man.

Prior to this season, the Celtics have made 12 picks in the first round of the NBA Draft with Stevens as coach.  Only three of those picks have managed to average more than 20 minutes a game in their rookie season (Kelly Olynyk, Marcus Smart and Jayson Tatum). 

Of those three, only Tatum logged more minutes through his first four NBA games than Pritchard.  Again, a very small, and very early sample size, but it shows just how rare it is for a rookie to get this kind of play, this early, under Stevens.  Pritchard is taking full advantage of it too.

He's contributing in a variety of ways, and that seems to be the key to earning Stevens' trust and consequential minutes.  That may explain whey fellow first round pick Aaron Nesmith - who many considered the best shooter in the draft - has appeared in just one game so far.  Stevens is looking for more than just shooting.

Not only has Pritchard shot well (13 of 22 overall, five of nine from three-point range), he has also defended well.  He has six steals through the first four games.  In last night's victory over the Pacers, he pulled down five rebounds and dished out five assists to go with his ten points.  He's contributing in all facets of the game, and last night came up big in crunch time.

In the midst of Boston's 11-0 scoring run to start last night's fourth quarter, Pritchard had back to back possessions where he beat his defender off the dribble and got a layup.  The second time, he managed to score on Domantas Sabonis and drew a foul.  However, it was in the late stages of the game where he may have officially endeared himself to Celtic fans.

With Boston leading by four late in last night's game, Pritchard turned the ball over, but instead of giving up on the play, he chased down Victor Oladipo and poked the ball away.  Smart corralled the loose ball, gave it to Pritchard, who quickly pushed it up the floor and gave it back to Smart, who buried a three increasing the lead to seven.  A massive swing late in that game.

On the broadcast, Mike Gorman and Brian Scalabrine agreed that was the type of play, and player that late, great Tommy Heinsohn loved.  There's no doubt in my mind that were Heinsohn still with us, he would have happily doled out a "Tommy Point" to Pritchard for that hustle.

Pritchard is showing signs of that spark and energy that Boston has long been searching for off their bench.  He played four years of college basketball at Oregon, and that cannot be understated.  Sometimes, these one and done, or two year college players struggle with the transition to the pro game.  However, a seasoned player like Pritchard tends to adjust quicker. 

I'm not sure how he'll fit into the rotation once Kemba Walker returns, but if he continues to play like he has, Stevens will find a way to get him out there.


Follow Derek on Twitter @mcvay34.

Check out Above The Parquet, the Syndicate’s podcast dedicated solely to the Boston Celtics and the rest of the NBA.  Follow our Fire the Muskets on Twitter @AboveTheParquet

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Boston Sports Syndicate: Have the Boston Celtics Found Something in Payton Pritchard?
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