Rookies often go through an adjustment period as they transition from the college 3-point line to that of the NBA. However, such was not the case for Payton Pritchard during his first season with the Boston Celtics.
Boston had high hopes for its 26th overall draft pick, but no one could have expected Pritchard to be so efficient throughout his first professional campaign, as he led the team in 3-point percentage, finished second behind Kemba Walker in free-throw accuracy, and overall, had one of the best shooting seasons by a rookie in franchise history.
That is why Pritchard is our Sharpshooter of the Year.
After emerging from a four-year college career at the University of Oregon, where he had established himself as one of the most prolific 3-point shooters in Pac-12 history, Pritchard entered the NBA and did not skip a beat. He made a tremendous impression among his peers right off the bat during Day 1 of Training Camp, as both Marcus Smart and Brad Stevens praised his hardworking habits. For them, it was only a taste of what was yet to come.
Pritchard stepped into the rotation right away, helping to fill in for Walker who was rehabbing from offseason knee surgery. He didn’t shy away from the opportunity, making five of his first seven 3-point attempts, and erupting for a 23-point, eight-assist effort against Toronto on Jan. 4 in what was just the eighth game of his career.
Through his first 18 contests, Pritchard averaged 8.4 points per game while shooting 49.5 percent from the field, 46.9 percent from 3-point range, and 91.7 percent from the free-throw line, which put him on pace to potentially become the first rookie in NBA history to achieve a 50/40/90 season.
Pritchard hit a bit of a wall midway through the season, like many rookies do, but he recovered with a strong finish. In his last 17 regular-season games, he averaged 10.6 PPG while shooting 43.0 percent from deep. He had 10 double-digit scoring efforts during that stretch, including a career-best 28 points against Oklahoma City on April 27.
Pritchard finished the season with averages of 7.7 points, 2.4 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per game, along with shooting clips of 44.0 percent from the field, 41.1 percent from 3-point range, and 88.9 percent from the charity stripe, while playing 19.2 minutes per game.
The only players who achieved higher 3-point clips were midseason departure Jeff Teague (46.4 percent) and midseason acquisition Evan Fournier (46.3 percent), making Pritchard the most efficient 3-point shooter among Boston’s full-time players. Equally as impressive was his efficiency from the free-throw line, where he only trailed Walker’s mark of 89.9 percent.
From a historic perspective, Pritchard had one of the best all-around shooting seasons ever by a Celtics rookie.
With 102 makes from beyond the arc, Pritchard finished just three 3-pointers shy of Tatum’s rookie record. However, he would have smashed Tatum’s mark of 105 had this not been a shortened regular season. He also became just the fifth rookie in franchise history to shoot at least 40 percent from 3-point range while attempting at least 100 such shots, joining Jayson Tatum (43.4 percent), Allan Ray (41.4 percent), Paul Pierce (41.2 percent) and Larry Bird (40.6 percent).
From a league-wide standpoint, he had the second-highest 3-point percentage among NBA rookies who played at least 15 minutes per game, trailing only Memphis’ Desmond Bane (43.2 percent). He was also one of two rookies who shot at least 40 percent from 3 and 85 percent from the free-throw line, along with Tyrese Haliburton. And he finished second in free-throw percentage among rookies who attempted more than 25 such shots on the season.
One other aspect of Pritchard’s shooting to note is that he was efficient from all areas beyond the arc. He shot 47.1 percent from the right corner, 45.5 percent from the left corner, and 40.5 percent from above the break, so he essentially had no cold zones.
It’s unusual to see a rookie shoot so accurately all across the court, but Pritchard’s seamless transition from college into the pros made that possible. He stepped up right away in Boston, posting team-leading shooting marks while also reaching historic rookie milestones, which led to his well-deserved earning of our Sharpshooter of the Year award.