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Celtics rookie Payton Pritchard getting some on-the-job training on defense

Celtics guard Payton Pritchard has proven to be a scorer while also serving as a pesky on-ball defender.
Celtics guard Payton Pritchard has proven to be a scorer while also serving as a pesky on-ball defender.Charles Krupa/Associated Press

Celtics rookie Payton Pritchard has stepped into an essential role for the Celtics despite being drafted just three months ago and having no summer league or full training camp to assimilate. He has consistently shown his value as a scorer while also serving as a pesky on-ball defender.

But when the Hawks played in Boston on Wednesday, their first of two games here, they consistently looked to exploit the 6-foot-1-inch Pritchard, either with pick-and-roll actions involving crafty guard Trae Young, or with taller offensive players in the post. Atlanta had some success, and it was part of the reason coach Brad Stevens kept Pritchard on the bench for much of the fourth quarter after he collected his fifth foul.


In the long run, though, Stevens said there will be benefits from these on-the-job training sessions for the rookie.

“That’s a great experience for him, because he’s getting some of that,” Stevens said, “so he’s going to have to learn to deal with that.”

Pritchard said the extra space created by the NBA’s deeper 3-point line and the general skill and size of opposing big men has created new challenges after defending pick-and-rolls during his four-year career at Oregon. But he is learning as he goes.

“Every game you kind of get targeted as a rookie, if you’re new in the league,” he said. “For me, it’s just trying to find ways not to pick up those early fouls.”

This week Stevens will cast his vote for the reserves on the Eastern Conference All-Star team. In the past he has placed great value on how a player adds to winning. But this season that part is complicated.

The third-place Bucks are 16-13, and entering Friday night they were just four games ahead of the 11th-place Heat, so there has been a lot of mediocrity. Also, COVID-19 related postponements and absences have affected results. So Stevens said he plans to alter his usual approach a bit.


“Maybe in the past it stands out when the top four, five, six teams have two or three players that are really carrying a load,” he said. “Those people are in the highest contention for All Star spots. This year, it’s a little bit more difficult to discern that just because being at .500 or a couple games below .500 with all that some of these teams have gone through is pretty damn impressive. And I think that I have to weigh that in when voting and when looking at it. There’s a lot of good players. It’s going to be tough to choose seven.”

Stevens is not allowed to vote for his own players, but he added that he believes both Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are deserving candidates.

Former Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas had 19 points on 7-of-15 shooting, along with two assists and six turnovers in Team USA’s 93-77 win over the Bahamas in AmeriCup qualifying on Friday. Thomas is a free agent and has not played in the NBA since being waived by the Clippers last February … Center Daniel Theis returned to face the Hawks on Friday after missing two games with a sprained index finger.

Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at adam.himmelsbach@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @adamhimmelsbach.