BOSTON (CBS) — A unique NBA season is going to be even more unique for rookies, who are receiving a crash course in everything with the 2020-21 campaign just a week away. The offseason, training camp and preseason have all been condensed into just a few weeks, which won’t make their transition to becoming a pro basketball player any easier.
But on Tuesday night, Payton Pritchard showed why the Celtics drafted him with the 26th overall pick in November. The rookie out of Oregon turned some heads in his preseason debut, scoring 16 points off the bench over 22 productive minutes in a 108-99 Boston loss in Philadelphia. He looked comfortable playing with both Boston starters and reserves, showing off some slick passing and some scrappy defense on the floor.
It’s only one game, but it sure seems like Pritchard is in line to play an important role on the Celtics when the regular season tips off.
Pritchard wasted no time getting involved Tuesday night, checking in with just under three minutes to go in the first quarter. He crossed up his defender on his first possession, driving his way into a pull-up jumper. At the start of the second quarter, he fed veteran guard Jeff Teague for a three-pointer on a nice drive-and-kick, and blocked Mike Scott’s step-back on the other end of the floor. He also led a fast-break and fed Robert Williams for a nice alley-oop jam.
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Pritchard looked good with starters in the first half and Boston’s reserves in the second half. He hit six of his 10 shots on the night, dishing out a pair of assists while pulling down four rebounds.
It was a solid night for a kid who has had 11 days of NBA training camp, and a kid who hadn’t played a meaningful game since early March. Many raised their eyebrows when Danny Ainge drafted a small point guard at the end of the first round, but now it looks like Pritchard could be playing some meaningful minutes in the early days of his NBA career.
“This is what we play the game for, to play games and this is what all the work is for,” Pritchard said after the game. “For me, I’m just excited to get out here. It’s been since the beginning of March since I’ve played a game, so get the jitters out, get running up and down the floor, just kind of get a feeling for things again. It was awesome to be back out here and there’s nothing like a real game setting.”
With Kemba Walker set to miss the start of the season with lingering knee issues, Pritchard making an early impact is important for the Celtics. Marcus Smart got the start on Tuesday, with Teague the first guard off the bench. Teague, who was also impressive with 18 points on Tuesday, could find his way into the starting five, which could in turn make Pritchard the first guard off the bench.
We’ll see how Brad Stevens goes with his rotation when the Celtics open the season next Wednesday against the Milwaukee Bucks. Stevens was impressed by what he saw from Pritchard and fellow Boston rookie Aaron Nesmith, who had eight points and five rebounds in 19 minutes.
Stevens feels for his rookies, who are putting in a lot of extra work to catch up and keep pace.
“Every day is a long class. They get there an hour before their scheduled time to do the young guys’ workouts. Those guys are both in the gym shooting and working out with their individual coaches before they even get into their lifting and group work,” said Stevens. “So they are in every which way in a crash course. And we’re just trying to expedite it as much as we can.”
Stevens said the best thing they can do for the first-year guys is to make everything as simple as possible.
“I think we’re going to have to do that, especially early on. There were a couple of times I called a defensive coverage or an offensive play and they looked at me sideways, they didn’t know what I was saying,” Stevens explained. “So we’ll have to work on all that and try to get them a basic set of things that we can play with when they’re in.”
Pritchard made it all look pretty simple in his debut on Tuesday, a solid start to his NBA career.