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Wednesday, March 12, 2014
Pressey poised at this point

By Chris Forsberg

BOSTON -- Phil Pressey heard plenty of criticism for his decision to leave the University of Missouri after his junior season, and his detractors were emboldened when he wasn’t selected in June’s draft.

Boston Celtics point guard Phil Pressey drives against the New York Knicks.
Those pundits are a lot quieter now.

On Wednesday, Pressey made his 60th appearance of the 2013-14 season for the Boston Celtics, tied for the seventh-most games among all rookies, including his seventh start, while spelling a resting Rajon Rondo during a 116-92 loss to the visiting New York Knicks.

Pressey registered nine points, five assists, and five rebounds over 35 minutes of floor time. The same kid who had to earn his first NBA deal through his play at summer league now looks awfully comfortable on an NBA court and is averaging 13.9 minutes per appearance (19th among all rookies). Pressey had some highlight moments -- like a little no-look drop-off to a trailing Kris Humphries for a transition slam in the second quarter -- but could only watch as Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks scorched the floor (52.5 percent shooting overall; 57.9 percent beyond the 3-point arc) en route to a lopsided win.

But step back a bit and what you find with Pressey is a player who's carving out a role at the NBA level. There’s absolutely room for growth, particularly in his offensive game, but Pressey landed with a team that both needed his skill set and has nurtured his game.

Before Wednesday’s tilt, Pressey reflected on his NBA journey to this point and wondered if slipping out of the draft was actually a blessing. Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge phoned Pressey on draft night to let him know Boston was interested in giving him a shot to make the roster at summer league, and that opened more doors than he probably could have imagined.

Pressey wonders now if he had been picked by another team in the draft if he would have been shipped overseas to hone his game, leaving his NBA future murky at best.

Instead, his deal with the Celtics contained a guaranteed first season and the potential to stick around into the future at a team-friendly rate (the Celtics have until July 15 before Pressey's second-year minimum salary becomes guaranteed).

“I think I’m good for this type of team,” said Pressey. “My rookie year, it’s going well so far. I wish we won a lot more, but, I feel like, for me personally, it’s gone up and down, but overall it’s going pretty good.”

Let’s start with the down: Pressey emerged from Wednesday’s game shooting 28.4 percent overall for the season and 25 percent beyond the 3-point arc. His shooting woes are hammered home by Synergy Sports data that shows he averages a mere 0.545 points per possession. Of the 372 players in the league with at least 100 offensive possessions finished this season, Pressey ranks dead last.

It’s prudent to remember that the Celtics are not looking for Pressey to be a scorer (though a more consistent jumper would aid his NBA longevity). Pressey thrives as a distributor and can provide the occasional offensive output in transition or when his shots are falling from the perimeter.

The up is his defense, which is more competitive than you might think for his size (listed at 5-foot-11). Pressey can hound opposing guards and his impact on that end is reflected in a defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) of 99.8. That’s the best on the team among regulars and 4.2 points less than Boston’s season average. In fact, the Celtics’ defensive rating spikes to 105.5 when Pressey is off the court.

Pressey has spent a lot of time this season in an observer’s role, whether it was watching Jordan Crawford emerge as the primary ball-handler early in the season, or backing up Rondo now (and getting spot starts when Rondo rests). Two trades in January created a backcourt makeover, but Pressey continues to see minutes in a reserve role when Rondo is healthy.

Even coach Brad Stevens thinks Pressey found the right home.

“I think that’s a big critical part, especially for guys that are undrafted -- guys that are not guaranteed with that first-round pick status,” he said. “It’s really important to land in the right spot and he did. To get great opportunities -- I think he’s really played well in these moments when he’s started for us, for the most part, the whole time.”

In his seven starts, Pressey is averaging 7.1 points, 4.6 assists, and 2.9 rebounds over 25.9 minutes per game. He’s shooting 37.3 percent from the floor in those games and 50 percent beyond the 3-point arc. That’s an encouraging sign that increased floor time can help him become a more consistent presence.

Pressey is locker neighbors with Rondo and you can tell the rookie is absorbing everything the veteran says. After Wednesday’s game, Pressey and rookie Chris Babb were sandwiched around Rondo’s locker an hour after the final buzzer as the team captain chatted with them.

Pressey knows he belongs at this level. He felt that way before the draft. His father, Paul, a former NBA player and coach (who was part of Doc Rivers’ staff here; Pressey played some high school and AAU hoops in the region before the family moved to Texas) gave Pressey the confidence to know would make it at this level.

“My dad had the utmost confidence in me since day one,” said Pressey. “When I said I was leaving school early, he knew I could play at this level, there were no questions asked. Me having him, knowing that he played and coached at this level, and him knowing that I could play here, that gave me all the confidence I needed. Anything anybody else said didn’t matter.”

Those naysayers aren't saying much now, anyhow.