After taking a self-proclaimed “absolute sniper” in Vanderbilt wing Aaron Nesmith 14th overall in Wednesday’s NBA Draft, the Celtics added more shooting by selecting guard Payton Pritchard with the 26th pick.
Pritchard, a 6-foot-2, 190-pound point guard, is the reigning Pac-12 Player of the Year. He averaged 20.5 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 5.5 assists, while shooting 41.5 percent from 3-point range, and he was named a consensus All-American while playing for the Oregon Ducks.
Here are four things to know about him:
He’s described as someone who ‘constantly fights’
Pritchard won four state titles in high school in Oregon, and he stayed near home and led the Ducks to a Final Four as well.
He started all four years for Oregon and earned the Bob Cousy Point Guard of the Year Award last season. Pritchard, who was widely regarded as a second-round pick but was always likely to get drafted, earned praise from ESPN’s Jay Bilas.
“He can stretch it out, shoot it from deep,” said Bilas, who covers college basketball as an analyst. “He’s strong when he puts the ball on the floor. He is a competitive defender even though he’s not the greatest athlete. He stays in front of you when he guards in front of the ball, and he’s got really good hands. He constantly fights.”
ESPN’s Mike Schmitz described him as a player who could have a “Fred VanVleet type of impact for his toughness, shooting ability, and knack for thriving in the clutch.”
The Celtics’ bench ranked 29th in points per game (29.5) and 28th in 3-point shooting (31.8) last season, and both Nesmith and Pritchard should have a chance to help in those areas.
Point guard Brad Wanamaker is an unrestricted free agent, and Pritchard could potentially slide into the backup role himself if Wanamaker leaves and Pritchard beats out Tremont Waters for the job.
Pritchard could also earn a spot on the roster as the No. 3 point guard, or he could spend time in the G League with the Maine Red Claws.
Danny Ainge called him ‘a fun player’ who gets up the court quickly
Pritchard knew the Celtics were interested because he had interviewed with them during the draft process, but he said he didn’t actually think they would be the team to select him.
“I’m very thankful,” Pritchard told reporters. “Obviously, it’s an unbelievable organization, so I’m ready to get to work.”
While the unique circumstances of this year’s draft made it difficult to fully learn about Pritchard, Ainge said he’s seen him play many times while scouting the Pac-12 and has always admired his game.
He called him “a fun player,” someone who can get up the court very quickly, and is a natural leader with the ball in his hands.
“Payton is just a guy that I’ve been attracted to the way he plays,” Ainge said. “He brings a great intensity, even as a freshman, and watching his development into his senior year where he had to carry much more of an offensive load. But he’s a guy I think can play in any system. He can play with any players. I love how he pushes the pace. He’ll make guys run.”
Ainge, who himself is a bouncy, gritty, and vocal guard from Oregon, said he found himself out on the West Coast often and was consistently impressed by Pritchard.
It’s clear the feeling is mutual. Pritchard said they had never formally met, but he knows who Ainge is and has admired the Celtics from afar.
“He’s a very competitive person, and the Celtics organization is like the best,” Pritchard said. “That’s what they thrive on. So I’m just excited to be part of this organization, be part of a winning culture.”
He earned praise
In addition to earning accolades from Ainge, Pritchard also garnered praise from Damian Lillard, who has seen him play at Oregon and gotten to know him over the years.
“Congrats to Payton Pritchard!,” Lillard tweeted Wednesday night. “Youngin work his [butt] off and earned it!”
Congrats to Payton Pritchard ! Youngin work his ass off and earned it!— Damian Lillard (@Dame_Lillard) November 19, 2020
Pritchard responded 10 minutes later, tweeting: “Appreciate you big bro.”
While Pritchard isn’t quite at Lillard’s level of stardom at the moment, he was in many ways the college equivalent at Oregon when it comes to clutch play.
He made many timely shots over the course of his career, including a deep 3-pointer with 3.2 seconds left in overtime to lift the Ducks over Washington. The play elicited a signature “Onions!” from announcer Bill Raftery and was one of the most scintillating moments in college basketball last season.
He needs to prove he can play NBA-level defense
Some of Pritchard’s strengths are his playmaking ability, fearlessness, and leadership. Sam Vecenie of The Athletic said Pritchard is a better ball-handler than he gets credit for as well.
“Particularly excels in pick-and-roll as a scorer,” Vecenie wrote. “Defenders have to account for his terrific pull-up shooting at all times, which forces them to play tighter and account for hesitation moves.”
Vecenie said he’s a smart passer and naturally unselfish, and he generally fights on defense and knows where he needs to be.
However, Vecenie said, his overall defensive value is “obviously going to be a concern.” While his competitiveness allowed him to not be a liability on that end in college, Pritchard will need to prove he won’t get picked apart on defense, Vecenie said.
Vecenie said Pritchard was one of his favorite players in college basketball this past year, and he likes him as a potential backup at the NBA level. He expects he’ll play in the league for a while, but he believes Pritchard needs to continue to improve for that to happen.
“He doesn’t need to be an elite-level defender, but he needs to at least prove a requisite level of average play,” Vecenie wrote.