Celtics draft pick Payton Pritchard already sounds like a future fan favorite

Soobum Im/USA TODAY Sports

By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com

If you were surprised by the Celtics' selection of Oregon's Payton Pritchard with the No. 26 overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, don't worry, you weren't alone. It surprised Pritchard himself.

"I actually did not think that [the Celtics] would end up being the team I was going to go to, but very thankful," Pritchard, who had one pre-draft interview with Boston, said. "It’s an unbelievable organization, so I’m ready to get to work."

So, how did Pritchard go from one interview to the C's second and final NBA-destined rookie selection of their 2020 class?

“I’ve watched a lot of Payton over the years," Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge, an Oregon native like Pritchard, offered late Wednesday night. "Maybe it's the Oregon ties, but I just found myself out on the West Coast at the Pac-12 tournament the last few years and other times out in Eugene."

But based on Ainge's glowing praise of the four-year Duck standout, along with Pritchard's comments, it's not hard to see how Pritchard could turn into a potential fan favorite in Boston.

"I’ve been attracted to the way he plays," Ainge acknowledged. "He brings a great intensity, even as a freshman and watching his development into his senior year where he can had to carry much more of an offensive load."

That offensive load played out to an impressive 20.5 points and 5.5 assists per game over his 31-game senior season in 2019-20, both of which finishing the year as tops among all Pac-12 talents. That made Pritchard just the fourth player in Pac-12 history to finish as the conference's top scorer and dish-man, joining a group featuring Damon Stoudamire, Jason Terry, and the legendary Gary Payton. (Before Pritchard, Terry was the most recent player to accomplish the feat, doing so in 1999.)

Pritchard also departed the Oregon basketball program as one of the most accomplished players in its history, as the program's career leader in wins (105), games (144), and starts (140). He even made conference history as the first Pac-12 player to have 1,900 career points, 500 career rebounds and 600 career assists.

The 6-foot-2 guard also had his moments with the pressure on him, scoring an NCAA-best 91 'crunch-time' points last season, and appearing in 20 playoff games over his four-year run in Oregon.

It's quite a resume, all things considered.

Payton Pritchard Game Winning Three vs Washington (30+ Feet)

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"He’s a guy I think can play in any system, he can play with any players," said Ainge. "I love how he pushes pace. He’ll make the other guys run. He’s playing with the ball in his hands, he gets the ball up the court very quickly and I think that’ll be a help to get the rest of the players up the court very quickly. He has that kind of leadership ability with the ball in his hands."

And Pritchard has already made one thing abundantly clear: He only wants to win. And with a snarl.

"I’m just excited to be part of this organization, part of a winning culture," Pritchard said. "Wherever I’ve been in high school [or] college, it’s always been about winning and competing, and so I get to carry that on. Hopefully I get to expand my game and win a lot of games.

"I just want to bring a sense of toughness, competitiveness, and try to help a team try to go win a ring and a championship."

The Celtics certainly feel comfortable with that passion, too, as confirmed by his selection by a man who subconsciously made him appointment viewing in his biggest moments prior to his landing in Celtic Green.

"He’s a fun player," a grinning Ainge said.

Ty Anderson talked about the Celtics' draft prospects (and predicted Aaron Nesmith) on the newest episode of the Sports Hub Sidelines podcast. Listen below.

Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Yell at him on Twitter: @_TyAnderson.