Proclaiming Payton Pritchard a legitimate piece of Celtics' puzzle

75756A5E-120A-4932-810C-2FD980DB785E

It would have been easy to take the usual first-preseason-game path when analyzing Payton Pritchard.

It's one meaningless night of basketball all. He wasn't quite tight enough with his defensive rotations. The execution of the offensive plays wasn't as on-point as Brad Stevens would like.

All fair.

But every once in a while you have to take a leap of faith and push the pedal to the metal while everyone else is urging a pumping of the brakes.

After watching Pritchard Tuesday night, I am proclaiming the rookie to be a steal for Danny Ainge. There, I said it.

The art of preseason overreaction is always fun. Remember Bam Childress for the Patriots? How about Allen Webster chucking 99 mph for the Red Sox? Good times. But every once in a while you can glean something from first impressions. That was the case in the Celtics' first preseason tilt of the 2020-21 season.

He logged 22 minutes, scoring 16 points in what was his first real game competition since playing for Oregon on March 7.

“Honestly, it was just trying to get in the flow of things,” Pritchard said. “Obviously, it’s a little bit of a different game than the college level and this was my first time, so a little bit of jitters. So just really just trying to get a feel out there and that was pretty much it.”

Sure, the point total helps make my point. But that's not what pushed me toward this preemptive strike.

Pritchard played with the kind of confidence and speed which you simply don't get a whole lot from rookies. Most of the time, a guy who is 11 days into his first professional training camp will be paralyzed by the new surroundings.

Controlling the game is what got Pritchard his collegiate honors. He picked up where he left off.

Sure, he was the 26th overall pick, a lot in life that clearly doesn't come with a whole lot of expectations out of the gate. Nobody in Cleveland was really banking on 2019 No. 26 pick Dylan Windler to do much a year ago, for good reason. But it's not as if there hasn't been success stories from that draft position. Just look at Landry Shamet from two years ago.

The almost-23-year-old Pritchard is a little different. He's already older than a good chunk of the players he's collecting paychecks with. And he plays like it.

Nobody is saying this player is going to be a replacement for Kemba Walker, or be running isolations at crunch-time. But the Celtics need someone to step forward from the OK-but-not-quite-OK group of Tremont Waters-Carsen Edwards-Romeo Langford.

Thanks to a positive first impression, I'm proclaiming Pritchard could very well be that guy.

There, I said it.