There was a time where Payton Pritchard’s journey to the NBA was on a different path.
In high school, Pritchard led the West Linn Lions to four consecutive state championships. He was the top player out of the state of Oregon for 2016 and the No. 13-ranked point guard in the nation, according to ESPN. During his senior season, Pritchard verbally committed to the Oklahoma Sooners.
Imagine a collegiate backcourt featuring Pritchard alongside Trae Young.
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Instead, he decided that staying home was the best option for him and committed to Dana Altman and the Oregon Ducks, just two hours south of Portland in Eugene, Oregon.
It turned out to be a great decision as Pritchard’s four-year career as the Ducks starting point guard finished as a Bob Cousy award winner, Lute Olsen award winner and the Pac-12 Conference Player of the Year.
Pritchard was then selected No. 26 overall by the Boston Celtics in the 2020 NBA Draft.
Oregon head basketball coach Dana Altman joined NBC Sports Boston this week to discuss more on “Pritchard mania” in Boston and his immediate impact in the NBA:
“I’m pleasantly surprised. Any time a rookie has an opportunity and makes the most of it like Payton has, it’s really nice. I knew he would work his way into a role. He’s a hard worker. He meant so much to our program for four years. He’s got a tremendous work ethic, so I knew eventually he would work himself into a role.
A great start indeed. With Celtics point guard Kemba Walker nursing a lingering knee injury, Pritchard has seen valuable minutes in his first season and currently averaging 8.3 points, 2.8 assists and 2.5 rebounds in 22.4 minutes per game.
Oh, and he also has his first game-winner:
Where did all this confidence come from? Hours and hours and hours and hours in the gym.
“He became a knockdown three-point shooter and his confidence grew,” said Altman. “When you’re winning, playing well, his confidence grew. I think he has an era of confidence because he knows he’s worked hard, he plays with a lot of confidence. Even when he moved to the NBA, he felt like he belonged.
That confidence to take a big shot, the fact that you’ve know you put in the time, I think really gives you that confidence. Developing a knockdown shot was his biggest accomplishment for us.
“He improved defensively, he improved in his leadership. All facets of the game, for us, he improved every year. And again, it was totally him. It was his work ethic…”
In his final season at Oregon, Pritchard averaged 20.5 points, 5.5 assists and 4.3 rebounds per game while also hitting .415% from three-point range.
That field goal percentage has actually increased in his first season in the NBA, hitting 43.6% from three-point distance.
There’s no denying the speed, quickness and sharp-shooting of Pritchard’s game, so the question presents itself: why or how did he slip all the way to No. 26 in the NBA Draft?
Altman explained the conversations he had with coaches around the league leading up to the draft:
“We got so many calls from so many teams. I was a little surprised he fell that far, but I had a great talk with Brad [Stevens]. I could tell he was really interested. Danny Ainge had been in our gym in previous years and seen him. So I knew there was an interest… It’s been a great fit so far and I hope it continues to work out.”
Pritchard’s name has come up in the way too early rookie of the year conversations.
The Celtics got an absolute steal at No. 26.
Read more on NBC Sports Boston.