In a normal year, the NBA indoctrinations for Celtics rookies Aaron Nesmith and Payton Pritchard would have been gradual.
After the draft in June, they would have come to Boston for some practices in early July before taking part in the two-week Las Vegas summer league, where the Celtics’ concepts would gradually be filtered in. Then, they would have a brief break before taking part in an entire training camp and a full preseason slate.
Nothing about this year is normal, of course, and the rookies’ only option is to get into the express lane. Nesmith and Pritchard were drafted one month ago, and on Tuesday both took the court in the Celtics’ preseason loss to the 76ers. Next Wednesday, their services could be needed in a game that actually matters, when the Celtics open the regular season against the Bucks.
Head coach Brad Stevens acknowledged that he might have to simplify the players’ roles in the coming days.
“There were a couple of times I called a defensive coverage or an offensive play [against the 76ers] and they looked at me sideways,” Stevens said. “They didn’t know what I was saying. So we’ll have to work on all that and try to get them a basic set of things that we can play with when they’re in.”
Pritchard said that aside from terminologies and schemes, he is still learning some basic tricks, like how to get around screens more efficiently so he can offer resistance on defense more quickly.
“Offensively, it’s just going to take a little time for it to come second nature when they call a play and get into it,” he said. “We’ve only been practicing for like a week, so our flow will just get better and better and guys will start to pick it up quicker and quicker.”
Nesmith has noticed the difference in the speed of the NBA game, and acknowledged that the accelerated timeline has created challenges.
“The head spins every now and then,” he said. “But it’s just how quickly and how well you can slow the game down and help your teammates win games and make winning plays.”
Pritchard, the 26th pick of last month’s draft, played 21 minutes, 35 seconds in Tuesday’s loss to Philadelphia and tallied 16 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 turnovers. Both miscues came on passes to Tacko Fall in the post, and while he should be aware of his target, they were plays that someone like Tristan Thompson likely would have handled easily.
There were a few times when Pritchard seemed out of position on defense, but it appears that his effort and scrappiness will help him mask some slip-ups, particularly as he continues to learn the playbook.
“Honestly, it was just trying to get in the flow of things,” Pritchard said. “Obviously it’s a little bit of a different game than college. This is my first time, so a little bit of jitters. So just really trying to get a feel out there and that was pretty much it.”
Nesmith, the 14th overall pick, did not appear in the first half. He played 19:07 in the second and finished with 8 points and 5 rebounds. The sharpshooter made more than 50 percent of his 3-pointers as a sophomore at Vanderbilt last year. He connected on his first attempt Tuesday before misfiring on the next four.
“The comfort level is coming every single day,” he said. “Progress is made every day. It’s a slow process, it’s a long season, so I’ll be learning throughout the entire season, during my entire career just getting better every single day I walk to the gym.”