It’s a tough time to be Payton Pritchard.
Well, not really. He’s still making millions of dollars to play basketball for a living. However, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows for Pritchard. In fact, he’s in a pretty unfortunate position.
This is the second straight offseason in which he has been effectively buried in the depth chart due to the additions of other talented guards. Last year it was Dennis Schroder. We all know how that worked out for the Celtics, and it impacted Pritchard significantly too, as he spent half of the season playing spot minutes. As a result, his opportunities were scarce and his production suffered.
After Schroder was traded, Pritchard stepped back into an effective bench role, proving his worth when called upon and helping Boston reach the NBA Finals for the first time since 2010. As for his contributions in the actual Finals, well… we won’t go into that.
Coming off another impressive season at just 24 years old, Pritchard was eager to step into a larger role in the 2022-23 campaign. “My first goal is finding consistent minutes every night and gaining the trust where I can be out there 20 minutes a night or more without it fluctuating,” Pritchard said at his exit interview.
Naturally, one would assume that Boston was ready for him to take the next step, right?
On July 1, Brad Stevens shocked the basketball world by trading pennies on the dollar for Malcolm Brogdon, one of the premier combo guards in the league.
The Celtics have indicated that they intend to use Brogdon as their sixth man in order to keep last year’s starting lineup intact and manage the 29-year-old’s minutes.
What does that mean for Pritchard? Well, he’s now the third guard off the bench on one of the best teams in the NBA. While Brogdon, Marcus Smart, and Derrick White are bound to miss time throughout the season, Pritchard is likely looking at sporadic playing time.
Another offseason, another frustrating development for the promising guard.
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What role will Pritchard play this season?
The Celtics have three big guards who can technically play 1-3 in Smart, Brogdon, and White. All of those guys can defend wings to an extent, which is the most important factor in this conversation.
Pritchard is strictly a point guard. At 6’1 — which might be a generous listing — he holds his own against larger opponents, but Boston would prefer to match him up against smaller guards.
Ime Udoka will likely aim to limit Al Horford’s and Rob Williams’ minutes this season. Al is now 36, and while we would love to see him look as spry as last year, the only realistic path to make that happen is keeping him well under 30 minutes per game and resting him in back-to-backs.
Rob’s injury history is well-documented. Udoka will likely want to manage his minutes to an extent to keep him close to 100% throughout the year.
As a result, the Celtics should utilize small-ball lineups more than last season.
That’s good news for Pritchard. Brogdon and White should see plenty of minutes at shooting guard and even small forward, which will open up opportunities for Payton to play at point guard.
All of that said, this is a very optimistic assessment of Boston’s game plan for next season with Pritchard in mind. Realistically, he won’t play more than 12 minutes a night.
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Could he be traded?
After the Celtics acquired Brogdon, I wondered if Pritchard would request a trade. After all, he has a right to be frustrated with the situation.
Payton didn’t do anything wrong to deserve the demotion he’ll receive with Brogdon’s addition to the squad. It’s just a part of the business. Stevens had the opportunity to add an extremely talented player without giving up much in return and he took advantage of it, as would any smart President of Basketball Operations in his position.
With a few open roster spots and a clear need for a backup center, Pritchard might not even need to request a trade to find a new home over the next few weeks. The sad truth is that he’s no longer a necessary piece for the Celtics as they make a push for Banner 18.
If Stevens can utilize Pritchard as a valuable piece to bring in another talented big man, he might pull the trigger.
That being said, he’s still young and has shown signs of improvement in each season. Injuries happen, and there is a path for him to carve out a role in Boston’s rotation, albeit a slim one.
Right now, Pritchard once again finds himself in no man’s land.