The Friday 5: Payton Pritchard's maturation gives Celtics boost into Round 2
On the West Linn guard's resurgence, Dillon Brooks' five-year progress, the Portland Winterhawks' playoff run, Ashton Eaton's graphs and a note about Kayvon Thibodeaux and New York.
Today’s Friday 5 is free for everyone thanks to the support of Dark Star Barbers. If you’re a Portlander — or just coming through town — Dark Star is a fantastic shop for quality cuts and conversation in the Jubitz Travel Plaza. Book an appointment today at Darkstarbarbers.com
PORTLAND — Payton Pritchard’s numbers were down in his second NBA regular season — something a bit jarring to see for longtime followers of the West Linn point guard’s basketball career.
This is a player who won four state titles in high school, one who started on Oregon’s Final Four team as a freshman and got himself drafted in the first round despite a 6-foot-1 frame.
“He’s a really good athlete, but when compared to these other NBA dudes, he’s not as athletic as those guys,” said Eric Viuhkola, Pritchard’s high school coach at West Linn. “But from the neck up, he’s a one-percenter and it’s not only his work ethic, but it’s his discipline.”
It’s that last part that Viuhkola has been the most impressed with lately. See, despite Pritchard’s minutes falling nearly 30 percent from his rookie year, the second-year guard managed to make a sizable impact off the bench during Boston’s 4-0 series sweep over Kevin Durant and the Brooklyn Nets.
Pritchard shot 67 percent in the series — 43 percent from three — and was a combined plus-eight during his 41 minutes over the four games. It’s a new role for Pritchard, being an off-the-bench, mostly off-the-ball guard. And it’s a role Viuhkola said Pritchard embraced because of growing maturity.
It just took some time for Pritchard, who found himself on unsteady ground coming into the season after the Celtics made changes at head coach and general manager.
“I figured that now that we have a couple Portland1 guys that are going to coach, it was going to be great. And then it wasn’t. It was hard on him,” Viuhkola said. “But I’m just so proud of him because, before, his response to everything would just be, ‘I’m going to go work my ass off even harder.’ And he was doing that, but he just had a much more professional approach to it. He knew he was going to get his chances and was just working his tail off to take advantage of it.
“When you see a kid grow into a man, that’s where you’re really proud.”
Viuhkola worked a lot with Pritchard in West Linn last offseason and the two will connect again this summer. Though, it might be a bit later than last time: The Celtics now have the second-best odds to win the NBA Finals, according to BetMGM.
Dillon Brooks beats the 5-year plan
Pritchard wasn’t the only Duck making an appearance in the NBA’s first round. Toronto may have been eliminated by Philadelphia Thursday night, but the Raptors went down swinging thanks to 25 points and 10 rebounds from former Oregon center Chris Boucher.
And then there’s Dillon Brooks, who will try and help Memphis close out Minnesota Friday night in Game 6 of that series. Not many figured any of these three Ducks would make for NBA Playoff contributors during their time at Oregon, but it’s especially fun to go back and look at some of Brooks’ pre-draft predictions.
While he may have been the 2017 Pac-12 player of the year, the ESPN algorithms didn’t give him much of a chance of making it much past Year 5 in the NBA.
ESPN Analytics projection (within his first five seasons):
Chances he'll be an All-Star: 0.07 percent
Chances he'll be an NBA starter: 2.33 percent
Chances he'll be a role player: 5.11 percent
Well, Brooks is in his fifth season. He’s been starting since midway through his first year, and while he may never end up as an NBA all-star, he is averaging 15.2 points in 33 minutes per game this playoffs for one of basketball’s most exciting teams.
Not bad for a player once picked apart due to his wingspan.
"They call me T-Rex here," Brooks told me his junior year. "The little short arms like a crocodile. They try and tease me about it."
Who knew the decathlon included graphing?
An interesting debate going on right now in the track world. Nine-time Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis has drawn a line in the sand pit, saying that the long jump is the hardest of all track and field events.
“There have been five male world record holders in the long jump since 1936,” Lewis wrote on Twitter. “The present outdoor record is 31 years old, and the indoor record is 41 years old. Seems pretty tough to me? What other event is that difficult to master?”
Seems like a pretty good debate for Ashton Eaton to weigh in on, no?
Eaton, of course, is one of the greatest American athletes of all-time, a former Duck who won the gold medal in the decathlon at the 2012 London and 2016 Rio Olympics. For Eaton to have success he had to be good at the long jump — and the 100 meters, 200 meters, 400 meters, 1,500 meters, 110 meters hurdles, discus, pole vault, high jump, javelin and autograph signing.
Eaton retired from track in 2017 and is now a mechanical engineering student at Oregon Institute of Technology. So yes, he’s good with graphs, too.
The floor is yours, Mr. Eaton.
The Thibodeaux Show heads to the Big Apple
My first reaction when Kayvon Thibodeaux was selected by the New York Giants last night?
Thought it seemed like a fit.
And I’m not talking football. Hell, there’s a reason why The I-5 Corridor hasn’t gotten into the mock draft game. I don’t want that. You don’t want that. But from the perspective of a player who has always viewed himself as a star, well, Thibodeaux finally found the market that he feels like he deserves.
He’s never shied away from the expectation of him being a star.
He committed to Oregon live on ESPN. He talked big and predicted 10 sacks as a freshman, and when he didn’t quite obtain that goal he reached back, recalculated and instead took aim at the Heisman Trophy.
Even when he went to the Rose Bowl as a California kid playing in California’s football treasure, he spoke as if it was all supposed to happen.
“For me,” Thibodeaux said before the Rose Bowl, “it just sounds like another Tuesday.”
Thibodeaux had spurts in his career where I’ve never seen anyone more dominant. The Pac-12 championship game in 2019, the Pac-12 championship game in 2020 and the half he played against Cal in 2021 after returning from a targeting suspension were all jaw dropping. You can splice up clips from those games alone and come out with quite the highlight film.
But in New York, for how much he’s willing to put himself out there in the media, he’s going to have to be more consistent. If he is, he has the personality to become a super star. If he doesn’t, it could get ugly.
The Winterhawks cruise through the first round
The Portland Winterhawks are back. And by back, I mean Portland’s junior hockey team looks like it’s going to make a dent in the Western Hockey League playoffs again. After finishing the regular season 47-16-5 (99 points), the Hawks cruised through their first-round series against Prince George, completing the 4-0 series sweep with a 2-1 win Wednesday north of the border.
It’s Portland’s first postseason sweep since 2014 when the Hawks swept Vancouver in the first round before eventually losing in Game 7 of the WHL Championship to Edmonton.
I remember walking out of Veterans Memorial Coliseum after that Game 7 eight years ago. There were 10,000-plus at that game, while the Blazers played in the NBA Playoffs simultaneously across the courtyard at the Moda Center. Hockey’s never gotten the same boost in this city soccer ha and there’s not a big group selling a bunch of Portland Ice Project t-shirts. But when the Winterhawks were good, fans and energy followed. Portland led American WHL teams in attendance from 2013-2018, peaking in 2014 with an average of 7,329 per game.
And things have changed a bit for the Hawks since.
The Winterhawks haven’t quite reached the levels of on-ice success they had during that stretch. They’ve also weathered a pandemic, bankruptcy, new ownership and branding makeover.
After no fans were allowed to attend games in 2020-21, Portland averaged 3,325 during this year’s regular season. It’s only the second time since 1997 that Portland’s averaged below 4,000 fans a game.
But when I read this excerpt from Scott Sepich’s playoff preview story, it sure made me want to get down and catch a game for Round 2, when Portland likely faces Kelowna.
“After the Portland Winterhawks’ 5-2 victory over the Prince George Cougars on Friday night, Hawks goaltender Taylor Gauthier celebrated his selection as first star of the game by storming back onto the ice with a cowboy hat atop his head.
He signed the hat, tossed it to a young fan in the crowd, then waved his arms to urge fans to make more noise to mark the Hawks’ first home playoff win in more than four years.”
Enjoy the weekend, all.
— Tyson Alger
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The Celtics are coached by Ime Udoka, who went to Jefferson High School, and assisted by former Blazer/Portlander Damon Stoudamire.