In advance of the 2020 NBA Draft, Peachtree Hoops is evaluating prospects with a look at what the Atlanta Hawks might be considering from now until the selection process occurs. Dozens of prospects will be profiled in this space and, in this installment, we examine the play of Oregon guard Payton Pritchard.
Payton Pritchard spent four years at the University of Oregon helping to power good offensive teams that performed at an even higher level during the 2019-20 season. He is a gifted shooter that increasingly added range across his collegiate career. With that in mind, Pritchard appears poised to enter the NBA as a player that can confidently shooter a full step behind the three-point line.
It was Pritchard’s progress as a pick-and-roll creator that helped lift the Ducks into the offensive stratosphere last year. Opposing defenses were not able to speed him up and Pritchard’s sometimes deliberate tendency as a passer fit perfectly into the NCAA setting.
He demonstrates excellent patience and awareness operating as a creator in the offensive half court. Despite his uncommon level of confidence as a shooter, he consistently makes the right play when running the offense. A test will come for Pritchard when NBA defenses force him to play at a much quicker pace.
He is an outstanding hit-ahead passer in the open court and this skills offers some reason for optimism that he can function at a faster pace in tighter space in the half court. Rim running big men will love playing with him. In this area, he may not be quite at the level of Trae Young or Lonzo Ball, for example, but he’s not far off.
Early in his professional career, Pritchard is likely to spend as much time off of the ball as he will on it. This should not be of concern as he is very reliable in catch and shoot situations.
Pritchard graded as an average finisher near the rim as a collegiate player, which does not bode well in term of projecting to grow into being a relatively high usage player at the next level, even if he plays predominantly on second units. As Pritchard built experience against NCAA competition, he learned to become a more physical player on drives and to create useful angles when attacking the basket. It is hard to imagine that translating seamlessly as he steps up to the NBA level.
He is a reasonably secure ball handler, but improvement in this area may be the key to Pritchard being able to play at a faster pace in tighter space. Pritchard made a significant amount of progress in this area in four years at Eugene, but he will need to continue this development as he prepares to encounter defenders that are consistently both bigger and quicker than him.
As his ball handling skills have progressed, Pritchard has developed n outstanding ability to use his dribble package to get defenders off balance which could help him deal with larger defenders as he moves up to the professional level.
His best NBA fit may be playing next to a bigger lead guard (like Russell Westbrook) or a high usage wing creator (such as Jayson Tatum). In fact, the versatility he offers as an offensive player should make it fairly easy to work him into varying roles on that end as he earns playing time.
As a defender, he is surprisingly strong for a player listed at 6’2 and 190 pounds. It is not easy to move him off of a spot, but taller players have had little trouble shooting over him.
When not on top of his responsibility , he simply lacks the size and athleticism to recover on plays. As such, he’s going to have to make a lot of progress in his individual execution when operating in defensive schemes.
Pritchard created few defensive “events” (i.e. steals and blocks) across his college career. With that, there should be no expectation that he develops the ability to move the needle in that area as he seeks to work his way into an NBA rotation.
He’s going to have to develop an ability to be a resourceful defender despite his lack of raw tools. The keys will be recognition, awareness and an ability to communicate at a high level. When considering how nuanced his play on the offensive end, it doesn’t seem too far fetched that he can grow into a functional defensive player.
Every team, it seems, is looking to add shooting and offensive creation. Given that Pritchard easily checks both of those boxes, it seems obvious he’s going to get a serious opportunity to play his way into an NBA rotation.
In most cases, he is projected to be and early to mid second round pick, in the same range as many other college guards. It wouldn’t be shocking, however, to see a team take a shot on Pritchard at the very end of the first round when the draft finally arrives in November.