Larranaga, tasked with coaching the Celtics’ summer squad last week in Orlando, laughed and offered, “I don’t think he’s any more confident than he was when he was 8 years old. He is one of the most confident people I’ve ever been around. That’s one of the things you love about him.”
Pressey, who went undrafted, parlayed some eyebrow-raising play at Summer League last July into a three-year contract that included a guaranteed first season. When the clock struck midnight on Tuesday, with all indications that Pressey remained on the Celtics' roster, his 2014-15 salary became guaranteed as well.
Pressey's confidence helped him carve out his spot in the NBA. Pundits shook their heads at his decision to leave Missouri after his junior season and thumped their chests when he went undrafted. Pressey latched on quickly with the Celtics’ summer squad and, knowing the team had a need for a low-cost ball-handler, played his way onto the roster with unexpected bravado for an undrafted and undersized point guard.
But therein lies the root of Pressey’s irrational confidence. He’s been told all his life why he wouldn’t succeed and yet here he is coming off a rookie campaign in which he appeared in 75 games and made 11 starts.
“I just feel like, whenever I step on the court, since I was young, I was the best player on the court,” Pressey said. “I never really took the backseat to anybody. I’m just trying to go out there and prove myself. Since I was younger, I’ve been confident and it’s not going to change any time soon.”
Pressey had a modest sophomore Summer League, shooting just 32.2 percent from the floor (19-of-59) but averaging 10.6 points, 5.4 assists, 3.8 rebounds and 2.2 steals over 27 minutes per game. He offset his late-week shooting woes by showcasing his distribution skills, handing out 13 assists during the team’s final game of the week.
Pressey downplayed the approaching deadline that would guarantee his salary ($816,482). The Celtics have 17 players signed for the 2014-15 season and are about $2 million over the luxury-tax line. Boston must shed bodies and salary, but of a handful of players with nonguaranteed contracts, Pressey has made the strongest case to stick around.
Yes, it’s fair to say he’s made an impression on the Celtics’ coaching staff.
“He’s never afraid of a situation,” Larranaga said. “I thought he played with tremendous confidence as a rookie in real NBA games. He still needs to pick his spots of when to be more aggressive and when to make the simple play. I think that’s where his greatest growth is going to come from. But he is a confident sucker. That’s why he’s been able to have such great success in his career.”
Celtics coach Brad Stevens went out of his way to single out Pressey during Summer League prep for the way he approaches his job.
“Phil is as hard of a worker as we have on our team,” Stevens said. “In fact, I think he sets the bar for most everyone else, in regards to how often he’s in the gym, how much he’s worked on his game. That really shows itself. That’s a great thing when all these young guys come in, to know a guy is coming back at 10:30 at night. Are you going with him?”
The Celtics may be young, but it’s still impressive that a 23-year-old undrafted second-year player is helping set the tone for the hard work necessary for Boston to mature from the 27-win team we saw last season.
But effort will get you only so far in the NBA. The Celtics added ball-handling depth by drafting Marcus Smart with the sixth overall pick last month. Combine that with a healthier Rajon Rondo, and point guard minutes will be harder to come by this season.
The knock on Pressey has been his shooting. He’s a skilled playmaker (when he plays within himself), but his NBA longevity could be determined by his ability to consistently knock down jumpers when defenses give him space.
He showed an encouraging late-season glimpse, shooting 40 percent from the field over Boston’s final six games while averaging 7 points, 8.7 assists, 3 rebounds and 1.3 steals over 29.8 minutes. Early in Summer League, he showcased an improving floater and a desire to connect more from mid-range.
“I’ve been working on that every single day,” Pressey said. “My floater and my mid-range -- I’m going to get [to that spot on the floor] 80-90 percent of the time, and I feel like, if I can master that, it’s going to open up my passing ability.”
The more Pressey practices, the more confident he becomes -- if that’s even possible.
“If you work on your game and you feel confidence in practice, there should be no reason why you shouldn’t feel confident when you step on the floor for the real games,” Pressey said. “You just have to keep working.”