Payton Pritchard: Rookie of the Year candidate?
It sounds crazy and, honestly, it probably is. But make no mistake: Through seven games, Pritchard has been one of the NBA’s top freshmen — and the stats back it up.
The Celtics rookie, who already has earned one of the NBA’s better nicknames, had his best game as a pro Monday night, racking up 23 points, eight assists and two rebounds while playing 32 minutes in Boston’s win over the Toronto Raptors. In fact, Pritchard’s 23 points were the most scored by any NBA rookie in a game this season, which admittedly still is very young.
Whether you prefer nerdy or conventional stats, Pritchard’s numbers are impossible to ignore.
Here’s where Pritchard ranks among NBA rookies in conventional stats:
Total minutes: 185 (first)
Total points: 69 (fourth)
Total assists: 25 (tied-second)
Total steals: 11 (second)
And here’s how he fares in ESPN’s Hollinger/advanced stats categories:
True shooting percentage: 65 percent (fourth)
Assist ratio: 26.4 (sixth)
Player efficiency rating: 13.55 (seventh)
Value added: 7.0 (fourth)
Estimated wins added: 0.2 (fourth)
So, what’s hurting Pritchard’s incredibly premature ROY candidacy? For one, his usage rate (17.0) is middle-of-the-road among rookies. That’s to be expected, as Pritchard, despite his already-significant role on the Celtics, understandably isn’t a focal point on an offense that features the likes of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
Pritchard also hasn’t offered much in the way of rebounding, though that also is to be expected from a 6-foot-2, 190-pound point guard.
All that said, Pritchard has been surprisingly useful on defense. His ability to hold his own on the defensive end of the floor is a key reason why Celtics head coach Brad Stevens has felt comfortable playing the Oregon product in big moments. Pritchard is no Marcus Smart (who is?), but he is a capable defender.
Further ingratiating Pritchard with Stevens is the 22-year-old’s 42 percent 3-point percentage. Want to earn minutes on the Celtics? Knocking down threes, playing solid defense and making good decisions with the balls is a great start.
Again, we’re not saying Pritchard is going to win the Rookie of the Year Award. We’re not even saying he should be considered a top three candidate. He faces an uphill battle in beating out players such as LaMelo Ball, Immanuel Quickley, Tyrese Haliburton and Anthony Edwards.
But none of that truly is important, and stats ultimately remain for losers.
What really matters is that Pritchard is playing winning basketball and giving the Celtics far more than they possibly could have expected from the 26th overall pick in the NBA draft.