After three days of Summer League, I think we can pretty definitively say that Kelly Olynyk is going to make the roster. Whether or not he becomes Dirk 2.0
is absolutely assured remains to be seen, but Olynyk has been extremely impressive. Here are some clips to prove it.
Ah, sorry, those are the clips of Michael Jordan that League Pass and NBA TV helpfully inserted into the middle of its coverage of Boston/Indiana earlier yesterday afternoon when they apparently experienced some technical difficulties. Anywho, Olynyk was awesome, apparently.
Less certain to make the roster but still intriguing, point guard Phil Pressey from Missouri has shown a lot of good things in Orlando as well. Pressey (not unlike Olynyk) has physical limitations, but so far, he has shown a nice understanding of the NBA game and creative ways to counteract his limitations.
To be clear, unless a Summer League player was a first-round pick, nearly every participant on every roster is competing for a bench role. Sure, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Olynyk might be starting this year, but for everyone else, a 10-15 minute outing on most nights is as much as they can reasonably strive for.
Pressey finds himself in a good situation to make the training camp roster for a Celtics team that is 1) very much in flux and 2) very much in need of a back-up point guard. He has shown flashes in three games at Summer League, but to advance to the regular season, Pressey will need to show a few things.
1. Skill and knowledge running a pick-and-roll
Check, check and check. This is hands down the most encouraging part of Pressey’s game. He is an excellent ball-handler, he reads the defense like a big-letter novel, and he has a flair for the dramatic. In the first still-frame above, he does something most coaches frown upon: jumping on a pass. But in this case, what usually is a bad decision does two things for Pressey. First, as noted above, it draws Plumlee away from the basket and Fab Melo, which allows the lumbering center to roll to the hoop and score. Second, it allows Pressey a better angle to see the play unfold. Let’s face it: 5’11 is really short among NBA players. Sometimes it helps just to see a little bit better.
One of the concerns for Pressey coming out of college was whether or not he could score at the NBA level. In three games so far, Pressey has shot 12-23 from the floor and 3-7 from 3-point range. These are not awe-inspiring numbers by any means, but he clearly has some shooting touch and he has shown a variety of shots both from long-range, mid-range off pick-and-roll plays and floaters around the rim. If he can continue to improve his offensive game, Pressey’s passing and ball-handling should make him a serviceable point guard on offense.
2. The ability to hold his own defensively
Several scouting reports around the internet discussed how much Pressey would struggle defensively in the NBA, but most of them bemoaned how badly he would be abused by the likes of Russell Westbrook and Deron Williams. This is, of course, probably true, but the good news is that in 15 minutes off the bench, Pressey could easily avoid those defensive assignments (and, as always in these arguments, the question becomes “Who realistically DOESN’T get abused by those guys?”). If he can avoid match-ups against the bigger, more physical point guards as well as hyper-talented guards like Kyrie Irving, Pressey’s quickness and awareness could very well help him make up for his height and length deficiencies. His speed won’t help him contest shots any better, but it can help him get up in his opponent’s space and prevent them from taking a comfortable shot.
In the clips above, Pressey’s speed allows him to play harassing pressure defense against Jonny Flynn and Donald Sloan, but perhaps most impressive is when he picks up Orlando Johnson. Johnson recognizes the mismatch quickly and begins to back Pressey down. Immediately, Pressey drops his legs back and uses his entire weight to keep Johnson as far away from the basket as he can manage.
This gives Johnson a couple of advantages. First, it allows him an even greater height advantage. Second, as anyone who has given up a strength advantage in the post can tell you, it gives Johnson a distinct speed advantage, since Pressey would have to adjust quickly and move his feet to stay in defensive position. This is nearly impossible to do, no matter how quick your foot speed, so Pressey does the only thing really left to him.
He pokes the ball away.
Pressey might never earn an All-Defense nomination, but so far at Summer League, he has shown the ability to poke and prod defensively, and frankly, it would be damn annoying to play against him. As it should be.
3. Playing in transition
If a point guard hangs his hat on speed, ball-handling and passing ability, his transition game should be strong, and Pressey’s appears to be. This is perhaps the best venue for Pressey’s dramatic flare to shine through. Notice in the second clip how quickly Pressey finds his man streaking down the court — so quickly, in fact, that the shot clock doesn’t even have time to reset before the ball is in the air — and how cleanly the ball leads Mitchell into the break.
It’s also well worth noting that the delayed transition play before shoveling the ball to a 3-point shooter is something we have seen from Rondo quite a bit. In the clip above, Pressey’s probing serves multiple purposes. First, it allows Pressey to make sure he doesn’t have a path to the basket himself. Second, it gives Eli Holman a chance to roll to the hoop, an option Pressey explores but decides against. Third, it allows the defense to collapse onto Holman, giving Mitchell the 3-pointer.
Again, Pressey has plenty of weaknesses, and they are important to recognize. His floater has looked inconsistent at times, which is a problem for a guard of his stature. He has taken a few more fading jumpers out of the pick-and-roll than most coaches would probably like to see. His height would certainly be an issue against most starting point guards, and it’s possible he will frequently find himself in foul trouble.
But for a back-up point guard spot on a rebuilding team, Pressey might be a solid low-risk, high-reward option, saving some cap space and allowing him the opportunity to prove himself on a bigger stage.
Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.