Phil Pressey belongs in the NBA. I want to make that clear from the start. He’s already proven that he’s a solid backup point guard. He has outstanding court vision, a tight handle, and holds his own on defense despite his diminutive size (5′ 11″, 175 lbs). The 7.7 assists he averaged per 36 minutes last year actually ranked ahead of Jeff Teague, Kyle Lowry, Tony Parker, Michael Carter-Williams, and Mike Conley. If you need someone who can initiate the offense (and not get killed on D) while your starters get a breather, Pressey is your guy. Phil Pressey belongs on an NBA roster. There’s just no guarantee the roster will be that of the Boston Celtics.
It’s not that the Celtics are spoiled with riches and there’s simply no room for Pressey (they aren’t). It’s not that they don’t like Pressey (they do). It’s not that Pressey played poorly for the team last year (he didn’t). But given Pressey’s height and poor shooting, he’s not a perfect complementary fit in a backcourt now headlined by Rajon Rondo, Marcus Smart, and Avery Bradley.
The ability to handle the ball is what’s keeping Pressey entrenched in a serious discussion for a roster spot. As the last two seasons have proven, Rondo is the only reliable ball-handler the team has. Bradley has shown time and time gain that he cannot play the point. Marcus Smart may eventually develop into that guy but right now he’s simply way too erratic with his dribbling and decision-making on offense. Pressey, other than Rondo, is really the only pure-point guard the team has. The Celtics don’t have outstanding 1-on-1 talent so having a second guy who control the tempo in Brad Stevens’ spread, flex, and box sets is important.
It’s hard to ignore the potential complications of making Pressey your “4th guard”, however. Bradley has proven he can be a disruptive on ball defender if he’s guarding the point. He’s generously listed at 6′ 3″. When guarding the opposing SG last season, Bradley allowed a PER of 17.2 (compared to 15.2 when guarding PG’s, which is average). Those numbers against SG’s don’t scream elite defender. In fact, they scream below average defender. Having Avery Bradley guard strictly SG’s takes away his one major advantage (overwhelming on-ball pressure). We know Rondo, despite his best efforts, can’t guard anyone taller than 6′ 4″. Pressey being the 4th guard brings up some questions.
Marcus Smart answers some of them with his ability to guard both spots thanks to being a legit 6′ 4″ with a 6′ 9″ wingspan. He physically strong and athletic enough to run with any guard in the NBA. But Smart is just one guy, and he’s a rookie. Unless someone like James Young can make major defensive strides quicker than expected the Celtics will be in a lot of trouble defending the wings. Jeff Green is solid if unspectacular defensively at the 3 spot but his versatility extends just from 3’s to small-ball 4’s. Chris Johnson, who has a chance to make the roster, is serviceable out on the wing defensively but he doesn’t give you much on offense so he’s not very valuable.
The Celtics are a dreadful perimeter shooting team, tied for 27th in the NBA last season, and Pressey doesn’t project to help that in any way. His inability to shoot at his height is the major reason he went undrafted. He shot just 32.4% from deep during his final year at Missouri and just 26.4% from deep during his rookie season with the Celtics. Bradley shooting 39.5% from deep last season might’ve been a fluke. The shooting struggles of Rondo and Smart are well-documented. Even if Pressey was to make a dramatic improve from deep, to somewhere around 31%, he still holds you back. The Celtics don’t have the individual talent or dominant post play to be a a terrible shooting team.
Now if the Celtics plan to trade Rondo, either now or before the deadline, this all needs to be looked at differently. All of a sudden Pressey would become almost indispensable unless the Celtics were to get a legit NBA point guard in return. That’s all speculation and the only thing Pressey can do is to play his ass off in the summer league. He did so last year and that’s how he made the roster. His contract for this season is not guaranteed, so the Celtics can cut him at any point up until February without repercussion.
If I have to bet on it today, I’d say Pressey will make the roster. The Celtics are too starved for talent to just let a player as good as Pressey walk. The concerns are completely legitimate. He doesn’t help this backcourt get any bigger or better at shooting. But he can handle the ball and could step into major minutes if a trade or injury happens.
Pressey might not make the Celtics. If that’s the case, I wouldn’t be surprised if he has a nice list of NBA suitors seeking his services.