Oregon’s locker room will be full of unfamiliar faces for Payton Pritchard at the start of the 2017-18 season. After being the lone freshman to crack the Ducks’ regular rotation last season, he will find himself as one of the most experienced players in the lineup for his sophomore year.
Pritchard began the 2017 season as the backup point guard behind Casey Benson, but still receiving a lot of minutes on a team with high expectations. After Oregon started to falter under these expectations by going 2-2 to start the year, Dana Altman moved Pritchard to the starting role, replacing Benson. That was when everything started to click for Oregon.
The Ducks went 25-2 in the 27 regular season games that Pritchard started. Of course, he wasn’t close to being the first option on an extremely deep and experienced team, but it was obvious how much his teammates valued his presence on the floor. Pritchard was the primary ball-handler on most possessions, which gave him plenty of chances to get his teammates open looks. 3.6 assists-per-game doesn’t seem like a lot for a player on a team that was 5th in the country in total assists, but this was enough for him to lead the Ducks.
Since Oregon was one of the top three-point shooting teams in the nation, Pritchard was able to get many of his assists by kicking it out to the open man. He was probably the best ball-handler on the roster, so it was easy to get the defense to collapse on him when he would get into the lane with a crafty move. This would almost always leave an open man for him to find with all of the weapons that Oregon had.
Pritchard was an important part of the Ducks’ success last season, but as the 5th or 6th best player, Oregon was able to deal with some freshman mistakes. Next season, the room for error will be much smaller with him as one of the offensive focal points. His biggest issue was his shooting percentage. He had a solid three-point percentage at 35 percent, but he only shot 39.6 overall. This was mostly because the majority of his shot attempts were three-pointers, so his shooting splits should even out with him likely shooting more twos, but he will still need to improve across the board.
Pritchard won’t need to completely carry the load for the Ducks in 2018. He will still have talented teammates, as Oregon has a top 15 recruiting class and some impressive transfers, but the Ducks won’t be at the elite level that they were at last year. Pritchard will have to adapt to a bigger role in both leadership and play if the Ducks want to have any chance at competing for a top spot in the Pac-12.
In an offseason of losses for Oregon, the team will be able to turn to Pritchard to keep the momentum of last season alive. In terms of playing on the biggest stage, he is now the most experienced player on Oregon’s roster, with Keith Smith being the only other one returning to receive minutes in last year’s Final Four (Smith only played 3 minutes). His ability to run the offense efficiently was apparent with a solid 2.52 assist/turnover ratio. His shot struggled at times, but those who watched him would tell you that his confidence never wavered, something that has to be valued in an incoming sophomore that’s about to take on a huge role. If he is able to adapt to his new role quickly, Pritchard could be one of the top choices to win the Pac-12 Most Improved Player in 2018.