The Emergence of Payton Pritchard


Ned Donovan and Cade Mcadams

The NBA has had a bit of a rocky start this year. There have been cancellations of games and even games played by teams with only 7 players. The 2020 NBA Draft was postponed by about 5 months, and drafted rookies had to suit up for their respective teams a month after being drafted. This limited acclimation time might partially explain the relatively underwhelming performance of the 2020 draft class thus far. The top picks have been disappointing, and even number one pick Anthony Edwards is averaging 12.8 points per game on an abysmal 40% effective field goal percentage. Do not let social media highlights fool you. These rookies are not playing well. Even Celtics lottery pick Aaron Nesmith has been a disappointment, barely cracking the rotation even amid injuries to major rotation players for the Celtics. However, there has been a bright spot among these rookies. Selected by the Celtics with the 26th, Payton Pritchard has been a dynamic playmaker for the Celtics so far.

Pritchard was born on January 28th, in Tualatin, Oregon. He grew up loving sports, especially basketball, and it didn’t take long for him to show it on the court. In his freshman year, he led his West Linn High school team to win the Oregon state title. He went on to win the title all four of his high school years, boasting various prestigious awards, and impressive numbers. He averaged 23.6 points, 6.8 assists, and 3.1 steals a game as a senior, and once put up 45 points in an Oregon vs Washington all-star game. However, Pritchard’s most shocking numbers may have been the ones related to his size, as he was 6’1, and just 190 pounds; small for an elite basketball recruit. Doubters argued that he would be too small to be consistent on a college team. But, Pritchard’s toughness, work ethic, and impressive skill set propelled him to be a 4-star recruit, committing to the University of Oregon in 2015.

Pritchard would play for 4 years at Oregon, which is rare for a player that goes on to the NBA. Still, by his senior year, Pritchard had established himself as a player with a bright potential future. He averaged 20.5 points, 5.5 assists, and 4.3 rebounds per game. In addition, he won the Pac-12 Player of the year award, earned a spot on the All-American team, and was awarded the Bob Cousy award for being the nation’s top point guard.

After declaring for the NBA draft, Pritchard was projected by most analysts to fall to the 2nd round. He was again marked down for his size, and lack of athleticism. “He’s too much of a liability on defense to merit legitimate minutes,” wrote basketball journalist and analyst Andy Patton (via Fansided Basketball). However, on November 18, 2020, Pritchard was drafted in the first round by the Boston Celtics, with the 26th overall pick. Critics argued that the Celtics had made a mistake, and “reached” too high up in the draft when selecting Pritchard. Celtics general manager Danny Ainge defended his draft choice. He liked that Pritchard reminded himself of his own game when he was a 2 time champion on the Celtics. He also said he was impressed with the young player’s ability to “really handle the ball, push tempo, and play at a great pace,” when asked by 98.5 The Sports Hub. Pritchard entered the season at 22 years old; one month older than Celtic’s star Jason Tatum, who was just 19 years old as a rookie. As an older, 4-year college player, Pritchard was expected to have an immediate impact, due to his experience. So far, his efficient, and energizing play has spoken for itself.

Payton Pritchard has been dynamic off the bench so far this season. He has a lot of valuable skills, including knockdown shooting, intelligent shot creation, and tenacious defense. He may be small for an NBA player, but he plays bigger than his size. Pritchard’s stats don’t jump off the page at first, but the more you look the better they get. Although he is only averaging a bit under 8 points per game, his efficiency is wildly impressive. Pritchard is shooting 42.5% from three, 54.5% from inside the arc, and 90% from the free-throw line for a true shooting percentage of 61.1%. His three-point percentage is 6% higher than the league average, his two-point percentage is 2.3% above league average, and his free throw percentage is 13.4% above league average. These combine to produce a true shooting percentage 4.5% above the league average. In my opinion, his most impressive percentage is that he shoots 77.8% from within three feet of the hoop. This is impressive for his diminutive stature and is above much larger star players such as Lebron James, Anthony Davis, and Nikola Jokic.


Pritchard is more than just a shooter. IHS student and basketball player Rex Geller explains that Pritchard “makes plays for others and gets people open shots which is very important for a point guard.” It has been said that a basketball player’s handle is the “key to the car” because it unlocks players’ other skills. In the case of Pritchard, he drives a Porsche 911 GT2 RS; he is not the fastest in a straight line, but is quick and maneuverable around corners. His ability to drive into the paint without picking up the ball helps keep plays alive and puts additional pressure on the defense. And last but not least, his defense has stood out as well. Players his size are usually a liability on an NBA defense, but Pritchard is an exception. On the topic of Pritchard’s defense, Geller said, “He is also feisty on defense. This is a huge plus, as the Celtics are known for having tenacious defenders and two-way players. Most importantly, he plays with intensity.” This intensity on defense shows up in the stat sheet, as with Pritchard on the court, the Celtics outscore their opponents by 8.3 points per 100 possessions. In general, Pritchard has had a positive impact on winning basketball and figures to be a key player for the Celtics moving forwards.