Celtics

Film study: The good and bad from Payton Pritchard and Aaron Nesmith’s two preseason games

They're just getting started, but both have already flaunted their potential.

Payton Pritchard tries to slow down Tyrese Maxey. Matt Slocum/AP Photo

COMMENTARY

No summer league, a shortened training camp, and game action less than one month after draft night. It wasn’t a normal introduction to the Boston Celtics rookies, but we got our first look at Aaron Nesmith and Payton Pritchard over the last week. Let’s dive into our small sample size.

Payton Pritchard

We knew coming into this season that Pritchard was an experienced point guard who could score while serving as a lead ball-handler. He immediately showcased his scoring touch in his pro debut against the Philadelphia 76ers. 

On his first possession, Pritchard dribbled out just over six seconds off the shot clock until he decided to simply go and create his own shot (something Carsen Edwards has struggled to do). 

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The maturity shown here is subtle but noteworthy. It’s his first professional possession, but Pritchard doesn’t panic when the floor fails to open up amid little off-ball movement. Instead, as Boston’s set falls flat, he calmly assesses the defense and uses a series of dribble moves to create enough space for a shot. 

Pritchard can create his shot in a variety of ways, including inside against bigger defenders. His finishing package improved dramatically during his senior season at Oregon, and it went to good use against the Sixers. 

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Here, he runs tightly around the Grant Williams screen and is met by Tony Bradley. Pritchard, once again showing patience, waits, gets Isaiah Joe on his hip, and then accelerates at Bradley, ultimately resulting in a crafty right-handed finish. 

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Later in the fourth quarter, he was able to make a mid-air adjustment before finishing with his left hand over former Celtics big Vincent Poirier.

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This layup was a nice example of Pritchard’s body control, an element of his game that often goes overlooked. He starts by leading the break after grabbing the rebound, meaning he comes into the paint and receives the pass from Edwards with a lot of momentum. It was reassuring to see him finish with that combination of body control and touch. 

Pritchard’s ability to get out and run while leading the break was shown on various occasions in Philadelphia, but none stuck out more than his lob to Robert Williams. He was able to hang in as the transition defense started to collapse, delivering the lob to Williams (something the Celtics have had issues with in years past).  

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It’s important to note Pritchard’s willingness to draw contact on this fast break. By moving into Matisse Thybulle, Pritchard uses his body to cut him off from the play, effectively keeping it a 2-on-1 situation. That’s a small but smart decision. 

Off the ball, Pritchard put himself in good position on the majority of his offensive possessions. He’s a high-IQ player, and his four-year career at Oregon undoubtedly helped his off-ball movement. 

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Even this slight shift off the baseline as Tremont Waters drives underneath the hoop is a positive sign. It’s nothing major, but a lot of young players sometimes anchor themselves to the corners instead of wisely relocating as a play evolves. Pritchard’s sense away from the play should go a long way. 

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Pritchard struggled with some interior passes on two occasions. Some of that is execution and awareness, but a lot of it is situational. On both plays, he drove into traffic and attempted to dump the ball off to Tacko Fall. 

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The pass is a difficult one to make no matter who the target is, but Fall doesn’t have the greatest hands among Boston’s bigs. He’s also 7-foot-6, meaning the so-called dump-off needs to be more of a dump-up. Where you drop off that pass for a 6-foot-9 big is much different when you’re feeding the ball to Fall. That sort of awareness will come with time, but this instance was also incredibly unique. 

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Pritchard had issues forcing a few passes on Friday night as well, but the one that stuck out came late in the third quarter. 

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Here, Pritchard tries to create separation along the perimeter between himself and Jarrett Allen. Instead, Allen closes quickly and Pritchard gets caught on one foot and delivers a brutal entry pass which Durant jumps all over. It’s common to see this unnecessary urgency out of young guards, but Pritchard needs to calm down and make the slower, simpler pass in this scenario.  

If he can avoid forcing tough passes, I like Pritchard’s long-term outlook as someone who can come in and comfortably run the offense for various stints. Right now, he’s undoubtedly Boston’s best point guard option behind Jeff Teague.

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Pritchard had some tough third-quarter minutes against the Nets core players as Brad Stevens went with a five-out bench lineup. He struggled to get anything going against the Kyrie Irving-Kevin Durant-Caris LeVert-Jarrett Allen-Landry Shamet Brooklyn lineup. Boston scored just four points in the quarter’s final nine minutes. The results weren’t pretty, but that kind of matchup certainly could serve as a little baptism-by-fire for the young guys (if you’re trying to look on the bright side of things).

Aaron Nesmith

Nesmith’s debut was a bit overshadowed by Pritchard’s offensive highlights, but the No. 14 overall pick was very solid in Philadelphia. He provided a nice burst of energy off the bench in the second half, constantly crashing the boards and showing good activity on both sides of the floor.

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He showed off his quick release from deep, running off a Grant Williams screen to knock down his first NBA 3-pointer. 

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That’s exactly what the Celtics drafted him to do. 

It’s been said countless times at this point, but Nesmith is physically gifted, and that will help inside. He grabbed five rebounds (two offensive) and did a nice job on the interior when placed in some of Boston’s smaller lineups. 

Late in the third quarter, Fall posted up against Bradley, but he never got a great look at the hoop. As he turned over his left shoulder, it was clear the attempt wasn’t going to go Fall’s way, but Nesmith took advantage of being left alone on the perimeter. He bolted at the hoop, grabbed the offensive board and finished with contact for the and-1. 

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Yes, Nesmith is a shooter first, but his physicality and energy could really help the Celtics, especially early on with no Romeo Langford and Kemba Walker. For Boston’s rotation, the more energy the better, and Nesmith plays his tail off. 

He showcased his energy again with some solid fourth-quarter minutes Friday against the Nets, crashing the offensive boards at will. His defensive positioning, however, will need some work moving forward. 

Let’s take this possession late in the third quarter as an example: 

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He picks up Allen, but as LeVert drives across the free throw line, Nesmith steps up to try and cut him off. Allen immediately sees this misstep and easily gets positioning on Nesmith, who grabs a quick pass from LeVert. Suddenly caught behind the play, Nesmith is forced to foul. Little improvements on the defensive end will go a long way in helping the Vanderbilt product on that end of the floor. 

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Again, it’s just two preseason games, so we’ll continue to evaluate the rookies as their respective games evolve at the pro level. Nonetheless, both Nesmith and Pritchard showed some promise in their preseason outings. 

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