(Photo: Marc-Gregor Campredon)
Becoming a better basketball player is often seen as solely a question of skill development, but there is much more to it.
Take for example point guard Payton Pritchard, who is coming off his rookie season with the Boston Celtics. While he has sharpened his skills since the end of the season, the 6’1 floor leader spent three games dominating NBA Summer League in Las Vegas by showing off a new level of confidence.
How confidence plays a vital role in development
Pritchard spent four years at the University of Oregon, playing over 4,800 career minutes for the Ducks, before becoming the 26th selection in the first round of the NBA Draft in 2020. Pritchard’s familiarity with Oregon over such a period of time allowed him to build an increased level of confidence, in large part due to repetitions and routine.
Every day, for four years, Pritchard would wear the same uniform, play under the same coach (Dana Altman), execute the same offense and thus get comfortable with the above grouping.
As such, it makes sense that when that pattern is broken – in this case by Pritchard entering the NBA – it takes time to build a new routine and feel comfortable in new surroundings. To his credit, Pritchard had an effective debut season, averaging 7.7 points per game while hitting over 41% of his three-point attempts.
However, this year’s Summer League showed a new level of comfortability for the 23-year-old who is likely to start at point guard for the Celtics this upcoming season.
Over a modest amount of 28.3 minutes of playing time per game, Pritchard averaged 20.3 points, 8.7 assists, 5.7 rebounds and 2.0 steals per game, while hitting a whopping five three-pointers per game.
While those numbers won’t be duplicated as the calendar turns to the regular season, Pritchard came into Las Vegas with a swagger and a confidence level that was undoubtedly met with enthusiasm by the Celtics front office and coaching staff.
Trusting his skills
The irony in Pritchard’s strong showing was that it didn’t display any new specific skills, but rather a stronger belief in the skills he already possessed.
Every three-point shot was taken with determination. Every drive was calculated and measured. Passes were easily whipped around with a clear level of trust in his teammates. There was no panic, no second-guessing, no feeling of being the new kid on the block and Pritchard leveraged all that into a three-game display of dominance.
Pritchard’s newfound confidence, especially taking charge with the ball in his hands, will play a crucial role for the Celtics for the 2021/2022 season, given that the team lost starting point guard Kemba Walker to the New York Knicks earlier this month. The point guard position is now split between Marcus Smart and Pritchard, whose growing comfortability with the role is key for Boston’s success.
While Summer League isn’t the regular season, it remains a solid jumping-off point for players to gauge where they are in their development and how to tailor the rest of their offseason training. For Pritchard, his success served as confirmation that was on the right track.
This was further confirmed on Saturday, just days after playing his last game in Summer League, where Pritchard scored 92 points in a pro-am game in Portland.
While the pro-am circuit isn’t known for defense, or substantial quality, it serves as yet another confidence-builder, which at the end of the day is a mental development that far too often flies under the radar.