Celtics bet on Payton Pritchard paying dividends for long haul - Sport News

Celtics bet on Payton Pritchard paying dividends for long haul

 The Celtics made several big bets this summer with their personnel that have turned out quite nicely for the franchise. The acquisitions of Kristaps Porzingis and Jrue Holiday have helped to put Boston  on track to be the top title contender in the NBA entering the playoffs next month. One under-the-radar move looks incredibly beneficial for Boston for the long haul as the season progresses: Locking up Payton Pritchard.

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The reserve point guard was front and center in Boston’s 122-119 win over the Bucks on Wednesday night at TD Garden. Pritchard scored 19 points off the bench on 7-of-11 shooting from the field and 5-of-8 shooting from 3-point range. He also pitched in with six rebounds and three assists, which continues to show that he’s far more than a shooter for this group, something Joe Mazzulla pointed out after the win.

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“Everybody always talks about his shooting, but I think this year in particular he’s been impacted by his rebounding, he’s been impacted by his defense, his pace, getting down the floor and getting us into our actions quick in the shot clock,” Mazzulla said. “Getting into the paint and finding guys. He’s just becoming a really well-rounded player who knows he can have a positive impact on the game in many different ways, and it’s a huge asset for us.”

That impact was on display in the second quarter Wednesday night when Pritchard helped the Celtics build a double-digit lead with the bench unit with 10 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists in the period. He’s a bench player who knows how to play his role but is also capable of much more when given the opportunity. Against a subpar defensive team in Milwaukee with their backcourt, Pritchard feasted on mismatches and made Milwaukee pay for them.

“For me, when I’m handling, I’m pushing the pace, getting down quick,” Pritchard said. “Seeing who’s on me, where’s JT at on the floor. Obviously that’s our go-to. I don’t know, you’re just making the right reads when they isolate and if everybody’s staying out, then it’s my time to attack.”

Pritchard’s consistent play and efficient shooting would have probably made him a starting point guard candidate this summer if he hit free agency. A deep run in the postseason for Boston would probably only increase his asking price. Instead, the Celtics choose wisely in clearly the way for opportunity for Pritchard this season by dealing away Malcolm Brogdon and Marcus Smart, which paved the way for a preseason extension of four years for $28 million.

That deal doesn’t kick in until next season but he’s already outplaying his average annual salary of that pact ($7.5 million per year). After a tumultuous year of waiting his turn, Pritchard is clearly rewarding the front office’s faith in his development. That progression has come as no surprise to his teammates either.

“Payton’s been great, and I’m not surprised, to be honest,” Brown said. “Some guys just got a certain mentality they carry themselves with. Payton is somebody you don’t worry about. Even in the lowest of times he’s a hard worker and his mindset is phenomenal in terms of a relentless, never-give-up warrior-type mentality. So you put him out there, I’m not surprised at anything we’re seeing now. It’s just now the work is coming to fruition.”

The Celtics won’t be able to keep this core together in all likelihood beyond the next two years. That makes finding adequate replacements on the fringes essential if this group ends up being capable of winning a title. With Pritchard under contract through 2028, he could be a key component of a contender not just now but with increasing importance in the future.

“He’s a pretty complete player,” Mazzulla said. “From the standpoint of I trust his defense, he can defend at a high level, he can rebound defensively and offensively, he can push the pace, he can shoot. He’s just continuing to get better and better all the time, and that’s just the player he is.”

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