Payton Pritchard ranks among NBA leaders with steady play

Positive P: Payton Pritchard ranks among NBA leaders with steady play originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

One year ago this week, Payton Pritchard logged his 15th DNP of the 2022-23 season. Buried deep on Boston’s point guard depth chart behind the triumvirate of Marcus Smart, Malcolm Brogdon, and Derrick White, there was no clear-cut path to consistent playing time and Pritchard yearned for a better situation in advance of the February trade deadline.

At the midseason point of the 2023-24 campaign, the only list that Pritchard now sits fourth on is the NBA net rating leaderboard. Among all players with at least 25 games played and logging at least 20 minutes per night, Pritchard and his glossy +11.6 net rating slots behind only teammate White (+14.3) and the Philadelphia tandem of Joel Embiid and Nicolas Batum (both +12.5).

Not only has Pritchard — now equipped with a long-term extension inked before the start of the season — emerged as a key piece of Boston’s rotation, but he’s the only player to appear in all 41 games this season. His efforts in Wednesday’s win over the San Antonio Spurs, finishing a team-best +17 in plus/minus in 27 minutes off the Boston bench, propelled Pritchard past Jayson Tatum on the league’s net rating leaderboard. (Tatum is tied for sixth with teammate Kristaps Porzingis and OKC’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander at +11.0.)

Pritchard’s ability to impact winning even when he’s not scoring has been a revelation that has helped him thrive even when his shot defies him. After a rocky start to the regular season, Pritchard found his groove and is averaging 8.0 points per game while shooting 42.1 percent from the floor and 37.1 percent beyond the 3-point arc.

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Pritchard’s impact isn’t solely dependent on his shot-making. He’s totaled 122 assists against just 25 turnovers, a 4.9 assist-to-turnover ratio that slots him near the top of the league. Among that same group of qualifiers, Pritchard sits sixth in assist-to-turnover ratio behind only Tyus Jones (6.6), Mike Conley (6.1), Chris Paul (6.1), Fred VanVleet (5.4), and Tyrese Haliburton (4.9).

Pritchard has infused energy and efficiency with his relentless pursuit of offensive rebounds despite his size. Among the 48 players who are 6-foot-4 or shorter with at least 25 games played this season, Pritchard ranks second in the NBA in offensive rebound rate (4.5) right behind only Brooklyn’s Dennis Smith Jr. (4.6).

Pritchard accounts for two of Boston’s top three two-man lineups among the 41 pairings that have played at least 100 minutes together. Not surprisingly, the combo of Pritchard and NBA net rating leader White has a team-best +21.8 net rating together. A Pritchard/Al Horford combo — one of Boston’s most common bench pairings — is at +16.9.

The question with Pritchard is whether his defense can hold up, particularly on the playoff stage. Teams will attempt to advantage of his size, but Pritchard often makes up for that with energy and grit.

For the season, NBA tracking has opponents shooting 50.4 percent against Pritchard, which is 4.6 percent above expected output. While that’s a mildly concerning number and something to monitor, Boston’s defensive rating with Pritchard on the court (109.5) is still nearly a point better than the team’s season average.

Most importantly, Pritchard now has the trust of Mazzulla, who has praised his defensive efforts.

“I think now that he knows he has a specific role, he knows his sub pattern for the most part, he’s able to bring different things,” Mazzulla said after Wednesday’s win. “We haven’t talked about him a lot [in the media] because he’s been put in this box of an offensive player and a shooter, and quite frankly, his defense and his rebounding have been top notch for us this year.

“In games where we’ve lacked a step, might have been a step behind or needed a boost, he’s come in and made big-time plays, defensively and rebounding. He’s always going to bring the offense, he’s always going to shoot the ball well, but between his crashing, between his defensive rebounding and his defense, he’s becoming an all-around role player and it’s good to watch him grow.”

Pritchard probably doesn’t have to sweat the deadline this year. Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens has suggested that a big wing is Boston’s top priority in advance of the February deadline, which feels like another vote of confidence for Pritchard. The Celtics would seemingly be hard-pressed to find a guard who 1) Could be obtained with the team’s limited resources and 2) Would be a surefire upgrade over Pritchard.

Finding a depth guard using the $6.2 million Grant Williams traded player exception is surely easier than landing a big wing, which could entice the team to at least entertain adding depth at the guard position, but Pritchard’s familiarity with the core and his chemistry with this group bodes well for him maintaining his hefty role.

And when he’s lingering among league MVPs like Embiid and Nikola Jokic as a net rating leader, it’s hard to quibble with the results when he’s been on the floor this season.

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