Pritchard's Range Extends as Impressive Rookie Campaign Continues
Payton Pritchard continues to prove that he is one of the gems of the 2020 NBA Draft class.
Pritchard dazzled Friday night in Brooklyn while scoring 22 points off the bench to mark his fifth consecutive double-digit scoring performance. His 3-point shooting has been a critical element of Boston’s offensive attack all season long, and this matchup was no different.
Pritchard shot 6-for-7 from beyond the arc, including four during the second half that kept the Celtics in the game. This performance marked the second instance this season in which he has connected on six treys, and it leaves him as the most lethal 3-point threat on the Celtics at 42.4 percent on the season. That number also ranks second among rookies in that category (minimum 30 games).
The most dangerous development in Pritchard’s shooting of late has been the range from which he is releasing and draining shots. All six of his triples Friday night were from at least 25 feet out, including a pair that felt as if they were launched from Manhattan. One of those makes from 31 feet out to pull the Celtics to within six points late in the fourth quarter, and the other was from 27 feet out during the final 10 seconds that gave Boston hope for a miracle comeback that never materialized.
Pritchard may be a rookie, but he’s already taking a page out of Steph Curry’s and Damian Lillard’s books when it comes to putting pressure on defenses the moment he crosses midcourt, which he discussed Friday night.
“For me, it’s just guys have to come out farther to contest, which opens up driving lanes if they come that far,” Pritchard said of his growing tendency to launch from well beyond the arc. “It’s just harder to contest that far out. So that’s why I usually go to that spot.”
With regard to those deep locations on the court, Pritchard was asked what the process has been for him to extend his range so deep this season. He responded by saying this trend is nothing new for him.
“I think I had that before I came to the Celtics,” he confidently stated. “So I think I had that ability to shoot from deep.”
That ability has been a tremendous asset to the Celtics since the start of the season. Pritchard walked through Boston’s doors just two weeks after being selected 26th overall in the Draft and he contributed immediately. He shot 40.2 percent from beyond the arc over 30 games before the All-Star break, and he has shot 45.1 percent over 24 games since the All-Star break. He – again, as a rookie – is the team’s leading bench scorer among players who have started 10 or fewer games.
Let that sink in.
Pritchard, as a rookie, is the leading bench scorer for a team that just advanced to the Conference Finals a season ago.
Now, even while stacking up his impressive numbers, it’s not as if Pritchard didn’t see a few dips in his production along the way. He did, just as every rookie does during their opening campaign.
February was Pritchard’s worst month in nearly every statistical category. Although he still managed to shoot 34.6 percent from long range during that month, it appeared as if he had hit the proverbial rookie wall. Since then, however, he has broken through and bounced back with a vengeance.
Pritchard is averaging 7.5 points per game since the start of March while shooting 46.7 percent both from the field overall and from 3-point range. His 3-point percentage over that span ranks ninth in the league among players who have appeared in at least 13 games and averaged at least one 3-point attempt per game.
Over that period of time, he’s even ahead of those two long-range marksmen who were mentioned earlier: Curry (44.5 percent), who has been in the midst of a historic 3-point shooting stretch, and Lillard (37.0 percent).
No one could have anticipated this type of rookie season from Pritchard after he was drafted toward the end of the first round back in November. But here we are.
Pritchard might not be putting up the gaudy raw stats of players who are playing more significant roles for inferior teams. He also may not possess the elite athleticism or size that many other 2020 draftees own. But those facts take away nothing from what he has accomplished this season.
He is, unquestionably, one of the most effective rookies in the league. He is, unquestionably, one of the gems of the 2020 NBA Draft class.