Pritchard Learning to Adapt, Thrive Simultaneously in First Season
Payton Pritchard has made one heck of a first impression throughout his first three months in the NBA, but his early production for the Boston Celtics hasn’t come easy.
As an incoming rookie, he’s had to make numerous modifications, such as adapting to a new role, adjusting to different schemes, and getting used to playing against greater talent, just like any first-year player making the college-to-pro transition.
Some players struggle with the role-change aspect, going from being the star player for their college team to having an uncertain or undefined role for their pro team. However, Pritchard has made that adjustment seamlessly.
Despite going from averaging 36.6 minutes per game as a college senior to 21.5 MPG as an NBA rookie, he’s hasn't seen a drop-off in shooting efficiency; in fact, it has increased for the most part. Last season at Oregon, he shot 46.8 percent from the field, 41.5 percent from 3-point range, and 82.1 percent from the free-throw line. This season for the Celtics, he’s shooting 47.5 from the field, 41.0 percent from deep, and 92.3 percent from the charity stripe.
Many rookies have trouble establishing a rhythm after seeing their roles change drastically, but Pritchard has been able to succeed due to his consistent, energetic approach on both ends of the floor.
“For me, it’s always about coming in with energy and finding the flow of the game,” Pritchard said Friday afternoon prior to the second part of Boston’s two-game home set against the Atlanta Hawks. “It’s not always going to be offensively. I can create a spark defensively or getting offensive rebounds. In some way I can affect a game - that’s my role on the team, to come in and provide a spark somehow.”
Adjusting to new offensive and defensive schemes can also be a challenge for NBA newcomers, although it hasn’t seemed to be an issue for Pritchard who leads all rookies in net rating with a mark of 5.9.
In particular, he noted how NBA pick-and-roll defense is vastly different from what he was used to at Oregon.
“The 3-point line’s farther back and then nobody can sit in the lane as a help-side, so there's more room to operate,” he explained. “And then obviously guys are just more talented and the centers are bigger, so it’s just harder to get around, but that's probably the biggest difference.”
The difference in talent can also lead to rookies feeling more pressure on the defensive end. Pritchard is finding that because he’s an inexperienced player in this league, opposing offenses have the tendency to go right at him, which is likely the opposite of what he faced in his last collegiate season as the Pac-12 Player of the year.
For example, the Hawks on Wednesday night seemed to target him directly at times, which ultimately pushed him into foul trouble.
“Every game you kind of get targeted as a rookie, if you’re new in the league,” Pritchard said. “For me, it’s just trying to find ways not to pick up those early fouls. So I hope I do better today.”
One last notable adjustment is simply getting used to the jam-packed nature of the NBA schedule.
Pritchard played anywhere from 31 to 39 games during his four seasons in college, but now he’s dealing with a schedule that will contain anywhere from 72 to 100 games. This season specifically is even more hectic than normal due to it being more condensed following the late-December start.
“It’s definitely nothing like I’m used to where you play every other day or every day, so it’s definitely a grind,” Pritchard said. “But it’s a fun grind.”
And it’s a grind that Pritchard is navigating as well as any Celtics fan could have hoped for so early in his career.