Until yesterday, rookie point guard Phil Pressey was a relative unknown in the NBA. The former University of Missouri standout had a long overdue breakout game that was the result of a recent increase in minutes and confidence, a welcome surprise to the Boston Celtics. In the team’s overtime victory over the Washington Wizards, Pressey was outstanding as he scored a career high 20 points, dished out four assists and had two steals to go with a block and a rebound.
Pressey has struggled with his shooting this season but was on fire from the field in Washington as he went 7-for-10 from the field and 5-for-6 from the 3-point line. While Jeff Green’s 39-point performance deservedly dominated the headlines, the Celtics would not have been in the game without Pressey’s consistent scoring from the backcourt and his cool head handling the ball for the majority of the game. Without Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley or Jerryd Bayless, Pressey became an unlikely starter for the second time this season and made the most of his opportunity.
While the 34 minutes Pressey played on Wednesday were by far a career high, he’s seen a steady increase in his minutes since Jordan Crawford was traded to the Golden State Warriors and looks set to have a consistent presence in the rotation. In the past five outings, Pressey has played at least 22 minutes per game, a mark that he had not reached at all in his prior 35 appearances in green. General Manager Danny Ainge openly said that moving Crawford would allow more time for Pressey and Coach Brad Stevens obviously has a great deal of trust in his young point guard. It was his second start of the season, and the previous game that he started also resulted in a victory for the Celtics.
Despite failing to register on the scoreboard, Pressey dished out 10 assists without a single turnover in the team’s win over Toronto, controlling the offense and setting up teammates for great shot attempts. He also collected three rebounds, a steal and a block in 25 minutes. With his consistent minutes over the past five games, Pressey is averaging an impressive 6.2 assists per game and showing the natural playmaking ability that prompted Ainge to give him an opportunity in the offseason.
While the season numbers look like those of a player that would struggle to find a place in the league (2.1 points, 2.5 assists, 27.8 percent from the field), at least to the eye Pressey appears to be a valuable contributor on this young Celtics team and looks like he has the ability to develop into a steady backup point guard. He has already played in 40 games this season, gathering valuable experience and now with the return of Rajon Rondo to the lineup, he has one of the best playmakers in the NBA to learn from and compete against in training.
At just 5’11″, there were concerns over Pressey’s size and while that may somewhat cap his potential, the rookie has made up for it with his speed and especially his energy on the defensive end. He competes defensively on every possession and hustles to disrupt opposing ball handlers, which is undoubtedly one of the main reasons Brad Stevens has continued to give him game time. Other than Rondo, there are no other natural playmakers on the Celtics’ roster and Pressey’s ability to handle the ball and create for teammates will likely see him play consistent minutes backing up Rondo for the rest of the season.
Ainge saw the potential in Phil Pressey and signed him to a three-year, minimum contract in the offseason. While he can be waived at any time, Pressey is proving that he could be well worth the investment if he can develop into a steady playmaker off the bench which is something the Celtics have been missing behind Rondo for a number of years. Just 22 years old and growing in confidence with every game, Pressey looks to be putting the concerns over his height and the disappointment of not being drafted behind him and making the most of his opportunity in Boston. With Rondo still working his way back from injury and playing limited minutes, as well as a sudden influx of injuries in the Celtics’ back court, we could be seeing a lot more of the undrafted rookie point guard who put the league on notice a few days ago that he intends to stick around for a long time.