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NBA AM: Best Fit to Coach the Lakers?

Who is the best fit for the L.A. Lakers as they hire their next head coach? Here’s a breakdown of the top candidates … Are the Sacramento Kings the frontrunners to acquire Kevin Love?

Jesse Blancarte

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Basketball Insiders’ writers discuss the most NBA-ready draft prospects in this upcoming class.

Who’s the Best Fit to Coach the Lakers?

The Los Angeles Lakers are taking a slow, deliberate approach toward hiring their next head coach. So far the list of candidates includes Mike Dunleavy, Byron Scott, Alvin Gentry, Lionel Hollins, Kurt Rambis, George Karl, Larry Brown and Scott Skiles. Derek Fisher has been identified as a candidate as well, but Fisher has not decided whether he will retire and Phil Jackson is reportedly very interested in hiring him to coach the New York Knicks as well.

Who from this list of candidates makes the most sense for the Lakers? It depends on what are the most important priorities for the front office as they make their decision. With Kobe Bryant signed on for two more years, and a roster that is in need of a significant overhaul, there are competing interests. Bryant wants to compete for championships now, but the Lakers also need to start assembling a core to build around once he retires.

With the new CBA in effect, the most effective way to construct a roster is through the draft and the development of young players. Thus, the Lakers need someone with experience – a proven winner who will demand respect from Bryant, but who can simultaneously develop young players. Ideally, it will be someone who has proven he can develop a culture, give the team an identity and create lasting stability. Here’s a look at the candidates:

Byron Scott

Byron Scott previously coached the New Jersey Nets, New Orleans Hornets and Cleveland Cavaliers. With the Nets, Scott made it to the NBA Finals in 2001-02 and 2002-03, though his team lost each time. After being fired by the Nets, Scott found relative success in New Orleans with Chris Paul as his point guard, reaching the Conference Semi-Finals in 2007-08.

Scott is respected around the league as a former player, and a coach who holds his players accountable. Scott would have the respect and support of Bryant, which is important. Keep in mind, Scott and Bryant actually played together on the Lakers, as Bryant’s rookie campaign was Scott’s last year in the NBA.

If Scott were to get the Lakers job, he has made it clear that he would instill a defense-first culture.

“That’s what I was taught when I came to the Lakers, that defense wins championships,” Scott said in an interview on ESPN LA 710 recently. “I think Kobe knows that. I think Pau [Gasol] knows that, because they won championships with that formula. And I think that’s the first thing we got to get better at, the defensive part of basketball. Then we got to get better at the rebounding. So, it’s something that we would do on a day-to-day basis. You got to work on that every day, and it has to be a team’s identity and a staple.”

This commitment to defense should resonate with Lakers fans, who watched the team surrender 107.9 points per 100 possessions this past season (which ranked 28th in the league).

Scott should be considered a strong candidate considering he is a fan favorite among Lakers fans, well respected around the league, has reached the NBA Finals twice and bases his coaching philosophy around defense.

Lionel Hollins

Hollins was let go by the Memphis Grizzlies after last season due to differing views with management. His contract was not renewed, despite a successful run with the team.

From the 2008-09 season until 2012-13, Hollins created a culture of tough, defense-oriented basketball with the Grizzlies. Offensively gifted players like Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol and Mike Conley grew into excellent defensive players under Hollins, and are better players because of his coaching.

Additionally, Hollins runs his offense through the post, which is where Bryant will likely look to score from after suffering significant injuries the last two seasons. If Pau Gasol returns next year, he and Bryant would fit into Hollins’ slower, post-based offense, unlike the up-and-down system that Mike D’Antoni ran the last two seasons in Los Angeles.

George Karl

George Karl is only the seventh coach in NBA history to win over 1,000 games and he has a career win percentage of .599. In addition, Karl led the Seattle SuperSonics to the NBA Finals in 1995-96, losing to the Chicago Bulls. Karl continued winning at a high level later with the Milwaukee Bucks and, most recently, the Denver Nuggets.

Karl led the Nuggets to the playoffs in each of his nine seasons as head coach, but only advanced past the first round once in 2009. Karl also showed last season that he can coach and win with young players, winning 57 games with a roster that featured an average age of 24.9 (the third-youngest in the league). Karl won Coach of the Year last season, but was surprisingly fired as part of an overhaul in the Nuggets’ front office.

While Karl seems like an ideal choice, his inability to get past the first round almost every season in Denver with Carmelo Anthony is a serious concern. In addition, Karl runs a fast-paced offense that often overshadowed Denver’s mediocre defense. Compounding that issue is Karl won’t have the elevation benefit that he did in Denver (which often causes problems for visiting teams) and may not have as much regular season success because of it.

Alvin Gentry

Alvin Gentry was the associate head coach to Doc Rivers this last season with the Los Angeles Clippers. Gentry ran the offense, which led the NBA in efficiency (109.4 points per 100 possessions). Gentry spent time with Mike D’Antoni in Phoenix, and runs an offense that is up-tempo and high octane, similar to the mid-2000 Suns teams. In fact, in his first season as head coach in Phoenix, the Suns ranked at the top of league in offensive efficiency, scoring a red hot 112.7 points per 100 possessions.

As effective as Gentry’s offensive system can be, his team’s in Phoenix struggled on the defensive side of the ball. However, after a season working with Rivers in Los Angeles, Gentry may be ready to integrate some elements of Rivers’ strong-side overload defense.

Working against Gentry is that in his two-plus seasons as head coach of the Clippers in the early 2000s, he failed to develop and win with young, talented players like Lamar Odom, Elton Brand, Corey Maggette, Darius Miles, Keyon Dooling and Quentin Richardson.

His career winning percentage is .475, and he has coached in 705 games. Gentry is also currently in the running for the Utah Jazz and Cleveland Cavaliers head coaching positions.

Mike Dunleavy

Mike Dunleavy most recently coached the Los Angeles Clippers from the 2oo3-04 season through 2009-10. With the Clippers, Dunleavy coached several young players like Corey Maggette, Shaun Livingston, Elton Brand and Chris Kaman, and he took the Clippers to the playoffs in 2005-06.

The team experienced more success under Dunleavy than it had in many years. However, this was the result of Dunleavy persuading Donald Sterling to open his checkbook to retain players and pursue free agents more so than his coaching prowess.

Dunleavy is a decent coach (.461 career win percentage) and he also has some front office experience. In addition, Dunleavy has a prior relationship with Bryant, nearly signing him as a free agent to join the Clippers in 2004. However, Dunleavy’s coaching style and rigid approach has caused players to tune him out in past.

Dunleavy has actually coached the Lakers before, replacing Pat Riley back in the 1990-91 season and leading the team to a 58-win season and the NBA Finals (where they lost to the Chicago Bulls). He was fired after the following campaign, when the team was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the Portland Trail Blazers.

Kurt Rambis

Kurt Rambis last coached the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2011, but was fired after just two seasons. Rambis tried to run the triangle offense in Minnesota, but struggled to teach it to his younger players. Additionally, it is telling that Phil Jackson is looking for a coach to run the triangle offense in New York, but has shown only marginal interest in Rambis.

While Rambis has plenty of experience, he has enjoyed success mostly as an assistant coach, and is likely not the man to lead the Lakers into the post-Bryant era.

There is no single perfect candidate. However, the Lakers have several solid options to choose from in the coming weeks. Whoever the Lakers pick, this decision should be made with an eye toward their long-term future. As much as Bryant wants to compete for championships these next two seasons, it just does not seem possible with the lack of established players and assets to trade with.

Note: Larry Brown and Scott Skiles have recently been identified as candidates, but Brown stated he is not interested in the position and Skiles has not been contacted by the team yet. 

Get the 2014 NBA Draft Issue of Basketball Insiders Magazine. The magazine can be purchased in three ways: You can buy it on the web, and the magazine will work on all devices. | You can buy it from the iTunes app store (for Apple users) | You can buy it from the Google Play store (for Android users). Get yours today!

Minnesota Listening to Offers for Kevin Love

Rumors have gone rampant about Kevin Love wanting the Minnesota Timberwolves to trade him. The most recent buzz was generated by Love himself after the power forward spent a weekend in Boston, checking out the city and catching a Red Sox game with his agent (where he briefly spoke to Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo).

Timberwolves president Flip Saunders tried to dismiss Love’s weekend trip, stating that he doesn’t control where his players go in the offseason. He also added that he expects Love to be playing in Minnesota next season.

However, on Wednesday, Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reported that the Timberwolves have started to discuss Love trade scenarios with teams. With that said, they have made it clear that a deal is unlikely until the team has hired a head coach.

According to Wojnarowski, “Once Wolves hire coach, they’ll likely try to sell Love again on a vision and direction. For now, his stance hasn’t changed: He wants out.”

Up until Wednesday, the Timberwolves had refuted any report that Love was available via trade. Now, it appears that Saunders believes Love will walk away as a free agent after next season, so he is doing his due diligence to explore what offers are out there for Love.

In addition to Wojnarowski’s report, Sam Amico of Fox Sports reported that he’s hearing the Sacramento Kings are the current frontrunners to acquire Love from the Wolves, adding that the team would offer anyone but DeMarcus Cousins in a trade and would be willing to deal for Love without a contract extension in place.

This is a notable development in the Love saga as the Kings are the first team that is reportedly willing to make a trade for Love without securing a long-term commitment. While it is a risky move, it is not unprecedented. The Los Angeles Lakers traded for Dwight Howard knowing that he would be an unrestricted free agent after one season with the team. The gamble didn’t pay off, however, as Howard took his talents to Houston to play with James Harden. The Los Angeles Clippers made a similar gamble with Chris Paul. They traded several assets to the then New Orleans Hornets, but made the deal contingent on Paul opting in to the final year of his contract, which gave the Clippers additional time to prove they could build a winning team around him. Paul re-signed with the team last offseason, without even meeting with other teams.

The Kings themselves made a risky move this past season, moving several players to the Toronto Raptors for one guaranteed season from small forward Rudy Gay. Gay’s play improved after arriving in Sacramento, and he has stated that he enjoys playing for the Kings and would like to be there long-term. Gay can opt in to the final year of his contract with the Kings, which would be worth $19,317,326, or he can opt out to secure a longer deal. The Kings are hoping a trade for Love can yield similar results.

The Kings have assets to offer, including Isaiah Thomas (Sacramento can make Thomas a restricted free agent by extending a $2,875,131 qualifying offer), Ben McLemore, Derrick Williams, Ray McCallum and the eighth pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. They also have a number of veterans on reasonable contracts such as Carl Landry, Jason Thompson and Reggie Evans among others.

Reports suggest that Love cares mostly about competing in the playoffs as soon as possible, rather than playing in a big market or particular city. Sacramento is currently on an eight-season playoff drought and likely is not on Love’s radar. However, a pairing of Cousins and Love in the frontcourt would be very tough for opposing teams to contain. Neither is an excellent defender, but both are relatively mobile on defense and secure over 10 rebounds a game. Combined with Gay and other pieces, the Kings could compete for a playoff spot, even in the deep Western Conference.

While many may question the wisdom of Sacramento making a trade with no long-term commitment, the fact is that small-market teams like the Kings are at a disadvantage when it comes to signing superstar free agents, and often can only acquire a superstar via trade. New owner Vivek RanadivĂ©  has already committed the team to building a new stadium in Sacramento, and has shown a willingness to take on big-name players like Gay. While he may pay the price, as the Lakers did with Howard, RanadivĂ© and general manager Pete D’Alessandro seems willing to roll the dice in order to make the Kings a winning team again. With a player as talented as Love, Sacramento may just hit the jackpot if they acquire Love, and he decides to stay long-term.

Jesse Blancarte is a Deputy Editor for Basketball Insiders. He is also an Attorney and a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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NBA Daily: Fixing the Denver Nuggets

Following a surprisingly successful postseason run, the Nuggets are off to a relatively slow start. Drew Maresca examines what’s going on in Denver in the latest edition of Basketball Insiders’ “Fixing” series.

Drew Maresca

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The Denver Nuggets have been on the rise for a while, but it all came together for them last season. If they weren’t already on your radar, a postseason that included two come-from-behind series wins should guarantee that they are now.

The Nuggets finished the 2019-20 season with a record of 46-27 and advanced to the Western Conference Finals where they lost to the eventual NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers. Along the way, Nikola Jokic proved that he’s one of the best players in the league, while they also received a significant boost from the rising star Jamal Murray, who scored 30 or more points in six of the team’s 19 postseasons games. Michael Porter Jr. also proved his back is just fine after a serious pre-draft injury and that he’s a real threat in the NBA. So what’s there to fix?

Well, the Nuggets are off to an uninspiring start. They are currently 6-6, good for just seventh in the Western Conference. While they’re supremely talented, they must get back on track – otherwise, the team could be in for a long 2020-21 offseason.

What’s Working

Denver’s offense is still effective. Entering play last night, they were scoring 116.5 points per game, good for fifth in the NBA. They draw a lot of fouls, too – 22.3 per game to be exact – which is tied for first in the entire league. So, that’s a start.

Jokic, meanwhile, is still Jokic. He’s playing better than ever and has legitimately entered the MVP conversation. As of last night, he was averaging a triple-double with 24.3 points, 10.9 rebounds and 10.5 assists per game. He’s also shooting an insane 41.2% on three-point attempts and 82.1% from the charity stripe.

Porter Jr., who has missed the last seven games with a positive COVID-19 diagnosis, began the season on a tear. He showed flashes last season, but he’s done it with consistency so far this season. Porter Jr. is averaging 19.5 points on 42.3% shooting from deep – and he was really hooping in his last game, scoring 30 points on 12-for-18 shooting with 10 rebounds.

JaMychal Green is another bright spot that has done a lot to help replace Jerami Grant, who was lost to free agency. He came over from the Los Angeles Clippers as a free agent and he’s fit in very nicely. Green began the season on the bench due to an injury and, in the four games for which he was out, the Nuggets went 1-3 and gave up 120 or more points in three of those four games. Since Denver has surrendered only 109 points per game, which would be good for the 11th fewest in the NBA. He’s also shot the ball incredibly well (52.8% on three-point attempts), while his presence means that the Nuggets won’t have to rely as heavily on 35-year-old Paul Millsap. The hope is, if Green can stay on the court, the defense will continue to even out.

What’s Not Working

A number of things aren’t working right now for Denver. First and foremost, the Nuggets haven’t put forth a complete effort too often. For example, they built up an 18-point lead in the first half against the Brooklyn Nets earlier this week in which they scored 70 points. They went on to only score 46 in the second half and lost the game 122-116.

On a related note, Denver has also failed to close out tight games. Of their six losses, four were within three points or went to overtime.

Then there are the high-level defensive issues. Entering play last night, the Nuggets had the sixth-worst defensive rating in the league and were allowing opponents to shoot 39% on three-point attempts – also good for sixth-worst. Worse, all of that has been done while playing the fourth easiest schedule in the league.

Drilling down to individual player issues, Murray’s struggles haven’t helped. Yes, his numbers are alright, but 19.7 points, 3.8 assists and 2.9 rebounds is a bit underwhelming considering the performance he put on in the bubble last season. His shooting is down slightly, most notably from between 3-10 feet from the basket (36.8%), and he’s struggled a bit from the free-throw line, too (76.3%, down from 88.1%).

What Needs To Change

First of all, the Nuggets need time to acclimate to one another; the team added seven new players this offseason and when you consider the shortened training camp and limited preseason – which was really only one week long – that leaves little time to build synergy. Theoretically, that should improve with time.

Porter Jr.’s defense is another aspect that must change. He is regularly Denver’s soft spot in the defense because he either loses focus or takes defensive shortcuts. The upside, Porter Jr. is still just a sophomore and his defensive should improve with time – he certainly has the requisite skills needed to be a successful defender (e.g., length and athleticism). So let’s give him a little more time before we make any bold claims about him.

Finally, the Nuggets have to find a way to deploy Bol Bol. Bol is averaging just 6 minutes per game. Sure, he’s incredibly lean and might not match up well in the half court with most bigs. Additionally, he’s a bit hesitant to shoot, despite a solid range. But, while the Nuggets are clearly in win-now mode, what contender couldn’t use a 7’2” shooter with a 7’8” wingspan? If they get Bol a bit more burn and he can mature, it would give the Nuggets one of the most unique weapons in the entire league. And, to Denver’s credit, Bol did receive the first two start of his young career in back-to-back games this week — perhaps that change is already underway.

The Nuggets may have started slowly, but all should be well in Denver. The Western Conference is incredibly competitive, but the Nuggets have more talent than most and, assuming finishing the season is realistic given COVID-19’s impact on it already, the Nuggets should be comfortable with where they are, regardless of their early-season record.

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NBA Daily: Fixing The Houston Rockets

Matt John continues Basketball Insiders’ “Fixing” series by taking a look at the newly-minted Houston Rockets, a team that now has given itself plenty of options.

Matt John

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In the most well-timed edition of Fixing ever, we’re taking a look at the very recently-revamped Houston Rockets. We all knew that one trade was coming one way or the other and now the time has arrived. For how well-designed this beautiful era of basketball was for the Rockets, it surely didn’t deserve the anti-climactic ending it got. Yet here we are. For the first time since Yao Ming’s retirement, Houston is starting from scratch.

Is all hope lost in H-Town? Well, losing Mike D’Antoni, Daryl Morey and Harden is basically like the Justice League losing Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman in one swift motion. It would be a major setback for anyone. In situations like this, it’s not about what you lost. It’s about how you respond to what you lost. To their credit, Houston had time to prepare for the disintegration of the Harden-D’Antoni-Morey era, and they haven’t taken their departures lying down.

They’ve wiped the slate mostly clean and, even if there’s definitely room for improvement, the new-look Rockets are a little more exciting than what meets the eye.

What’s Working?

It is a shame that Harden never gave this group a chance. Houston had a better offseason than they were given credit for because the high-profile personnel that they lost (or were about to lose) overshadowed what they brought in. Compared to past teams that faced similar circumstances, Houston could have done a lot worse. Let’s start with the best-kept secret that gets more and more exposed by the hour: Christian Wood.

NBA nerds hyped up Wood throughout the offseason for how great he looked during the brief time he was the full-time center in Detroit – averaging nearly 23/10 on 56/40/76 splits. When you take the sample size (13 games) and how Detroit fared in that stretch (they lost all but one game) into account, it’s understandable why it was hard to buy stock in Wood’s potential during the mini off-season.

That’s why Houston got him at the value they did and he’s already one of the league’s better bargains. Those numbers he put up as a Piston have carried on with the Rockets; while his 53/34/66 splits with almost two blocks per game have put him on the map. Wood’s ascension hasn’t led to much team success yet, but he’s the last player to blame for that.

Then there’s Houston’s more well-repped new addition, John Wall. Wall’s probably never going to live up to the $40+ million deal that Houston is paying him, but they didn’t acquire him for that reason. They acquired him in the hopes of him giving them more bang for their buck than Russell Westbrook did. The results have been a mixed bag, but that’s to be expected after what he’s been through. It’s been encouraging to see that on a good day, he still has most of his form.

There are plenty of games left for him to find consistency. We also have to keep in mind that Wall’s just getting his feet wet following two awful injuries. Even if he’s not the same Wall from his prime, this has worked out a lot better for Houston than Westbrook has in Washington. Having the better player as well as an additional first-round pick should be counted as an absolute win for the Rockets.

There are other stand-out players: It looks like the Rockets found another keeper in rookie Jae’Sean Tate who, along with David Nwaba, have infused the Rockets with badly needed energy.

Things were obviously better last year when Harden and co. were content, but the Rockets are far from a disaster.

What’s Not Working?

Well, James Harden. Plain and simple. When a superstar wants out, it wears the team down internally. That elephant is too big for the room to ignore, clear that both sides were done with each other by the end. Houston deserves props for willing to get “uncomfortable” just as they promised, but a superstar wanting out brings down the team’s morale no matter what.

It’s why Houston started 3-6 with the league’s ninth-lowest net rating at minus-1.8. There were other factors at play here with all the shuffling parts, but there’s no need for fluff. Harden’s trade demand loomed too large for it not to affect the Rockets. It’s hard for everyone when the best player on the team isn’t buying in. His teammates were complaining about him publicly.

The upshot is that it’s over now. Losing James Harden the player certainly isn’t addition by subtraction – in Houston’s case, that’s Westbrook – but losing James Harden the distraction could certainly be for this season.

What’s Next?

Now that the dust has settled, the Rockets can finally take a deep breath and sort out both their present and their future. Presently, there’s going to be even more shuffling now than there was before. At the very least, the roster is going to have players who should be on the same page.

Houston may still have some loose ends from its previous era. From the looks of things, PJ Tucker could be the next one to go. Houston’s prospects are on the come up, but a player with Tucker’s abilities should be on a contender. That’s something that the Rockets, as of now, are not. The same goes for Eric Gordon, but it’s tough to see any of the elite teams willing to put up enough salaries to trade for his contract.

Then there’s the newly-acquired Victor Oladipo.

Oladipo has been a good soldier in spite of the trade rumors that have buzzed around him over the last several months. Indiana trading him to Houston signified that he wasn’t re-signing with them. Houston provides a unique opportunity for Oladipo to further re-establish his value as a star. It’s hard to foresee if he’s in their long-term plans or if he’s another asset to move in their rebuild.

With all that said, new head coach Stephen Silas seems to have won over the players. After beating the San Antonio Spurs last night without Harden or Wall, the Rockets, despite not being in the tier of elite teams anymore, should be excited for what the season holds.

As for what the future will bring, their outlook is a lot brighter than it was back in September. Even if they’ll face the repercussions of giving up most of their own first-round picks for Westbrook and Robert Covington last year, they just hauled in a massive load of first-round picks and four pick swaps combined for Westbrook, Covington and Harden since then.

The development of players should put Houston in a good light, which could pay huge dividends for their chances in free agency. We’ve seen teams establish a great team culture while building up a promising future – ahem, the very same Brooklyn Nets that just cashed in for Harden proved that.

The Rockets might be next in line.

The days of Houston being a contender are gone for now. But, thankfully, the days of the Rockets becoming one of the NBA’s premier League Pass favorites may have only begun.

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NBA Daily: Payton Pritchard — Boston’s Bench Band-Aid

Basketball Insiders’ Shane Rhodes breaks down the fortuitous start to Payton Pritchard’s rookie season and what it’s meant to the Boston Celtics.

Shane Rhodes

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For the Boston Celtics, Payton Pritchard has been exactly what the doctor ordered.

Boston sported, arguably, the NBA’s worst bench unit a season ago. Despite a fearsome-foursome of Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker, their lack of depth hurt them all season long. It stood in direct contrast to their Eastern Conference Finals opponent, the Miami HEAT, and, ultimately, sank the Celtics’ shot at the NBA Finals.

Now, with Hayward gone to the Charlotte Hornets and Walker on the mend, it was only logical to expect that dearth to once again be their Achilles heel. But, on the contrary, the bench has been rejuvenated — or, at the very least, much improved — to start the 2020-21 season.

And, albeit unexpectedly, Boston has the rookie out of Oregon to thank for that.

Pritchard, the 26th pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, faced some serious questions about his game in the lead up to the season. He left the NCAA as the recipient of both the Bob Cousy and Lute Olson awards, given to the nation’s top point guard and non-freshman player, respectively, and served as a leader for the Ducks throughout his four years with the team.

However, in the NBA, a league that’s far bigger, faster and stronger than any competition he’s ever faced, plenty were concerned as to how Pritchard’s game might translate. He’ll never be the most athletic player on the court and, when combined with his 6-foot-2 frame, that raised some serious concerns about his defensive viability at the game’s highest level.

On top of that, Pritchard was far from the only addition the Celtics made this offseason; fellow rookie Aaron Nesmith was thought by some to be the best shooter in the draft, while Jeff Teague and Tristan Thompson are battle-tested veterans that would demand a rotation spot from the jump.

Despite those stacked odds, however, Pritchard immediately took a rotation spot for his own, ahead of the higher drafted Nesmith and alongside the veteran Teague in Boston’s pecking order. In doing so, he’s brought a major spark to a bench that desperately needed one.

Save for a 23 point, 8 assist performance against the Toronto Raptors, he hasn’t jumped out of the boxscore. But Pritchard’s played with a veteran’s confidence and has contributed in nearly every game so far this season.

In fact, he’s played with a tenacity that even some of the more hard-nosed veterans lack, while his knack for the timely play has put Boston in the position to win on almost every possession. Pritchard is a +45 in his 10 games played, good for second among rookies and third among Celtics.

Like on this steal and drawn foul with the clock winding down against the Washington Wizards. Or his tip-in game-winner against the HEAT. Pritchard, at all times, is aware of where he needs to be on the court and, more importantly, when he needs to be there to put the team in the best position to succeed. Likewise, he’s moved with or without the ball and put himself in the position to help his teammates make the easy play as often as possible.

That presence of mind is something you just can’t teach — and Pritchard has it in spades.

Beyond the court, Pritchard has easily endeared himself to his Celtics teammates. Brown referred to him as “the GOAT” after just his fourth game, a win over the Pacers in which Pritchard finished with 10 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists in just over 27 minutes and was clutch down the stretch. Marcus Smart, known for his tenacious style of play, has said “the sky’s the limit” for Pritchard and has noted many similarities between himself and the rookie as far back as the preseason.

A bit more reserved, head coach Brad Stevens said “[Pritchard]’s had more good nights, for sure, than not,” after the rookie flashed against the Raptors.

Still, it’s clear Stevens, like the others, has quickly taken a liking to Pritchard and, further, has expected a lot of the late-first rounder. Pritchard, on multiple occasions and despite his lack of NBA experience, has served as part of Boston’s closing lineup, an ultimate show of respect from a coach like Stevens that values defensive execution above most else on the court.

“We’re going to ask him to do a lot right now. And, fair or unfair to him, he’s going to have to be consistent for us, for us to have a chance to be a good team.”

And Stevens is right; to be the best version of themselves, Pritchard must continue to improve his own game and help push the bench even further.

Of course, that kind of pressure is nothing new to Pritchard who, over his four seasons with the Ducks, carried the team on his shoulders and constantly stepped up when they needed him most. And, while he’s been lauded with praise, the rookie has continued to stay humble.

“Coming in, I’m just trying to do my part,” Pritchard said after the team’s aforementioned win over the Pacers. “It’s my fourth game, everything’s coming at me fast and I’m still figuring things out.”

“I just want to win and I want to help as much as I can to get a win.”

As the Celtics forge their path ahead and continue to outfit the roster, players that not only contribute right away but can elevate the play of Boston’s star duo, Tatum and Brown, will be the priority.

And, if any of them are as rock-solid as Pritchard has been so far, the Celtics will be well on their way to an NBA title.

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