Apart from an uneventful three minute stretch in Boston’s season opener against Toronto, before last night we’d yet to see Phil Pressey in action.
The sample size is small (raise your hand if you’ve ever read that before) and Pressey’s “debut” came against an 0-4 Utah Jazz team playing the dynamic Jamaal Tinsley/John Lucas III duo at point guard, but so far the undrafted rookie does not look at all like an undrafted rookie.
#Celtics coach Brad Stevens: I thought Phil Pressey gave us a spark. The best teams I’ve coached have always had a spark off the bench.
— Scott Souza (@scott_souza) November 7, 2013
Pressey ran an actual offense, with poised, smart basketball—exactly what you want out of a backup point guard. The performance was especially noticeable replacing Jordan Crawford, whose playing style induces nausea regardless of whether he scores a basket or appears inebriated.
With Rajon Rondo out, the Celtics are void of anyone able to consistently make the right play on a pick-and-roll, or settle things down with correct decisions in a half-court set. Except Pressey. His 17-minute stat line was unimpressive (two points, three assists, two missed threes), but stats aren’t quite able to illustrate the type of impact Pressey had against Utah.
It began towards the end of the first quarter. Jared Sullinger came up to give Pressey a high screen and the guard scurried towards the right elbow, taking a couple quick dribbles before throwing it back to an open Kelly Olynyk over on the weak side. As Jazz defenders began to scramble, Olynyk whipped the ball to the corner for Gerald Wallace, who sunk the three.
On this particular play, Pressey probably could’ve penetrated a few steps further into Utah’s defense, either getting to the rim and drawing a foul or kicking it to Wallace himself after luring in Gordon Hayward from the weak side. But regardless, the results were positive.
A few minutes later Pressey and Sullinger ran another high screen in semi-transition. This time on the left side, with Wallace knocking down another three from the weak side corner. On this play Pressey gets the assist by picking up his dribble at the elbow, looking Wallace’s defender off to the wing and firing a pass towards open space.
For someone Pressey’s size to see the floor so clearly is just awesome, and the way he manipulates Alec Burks was probably one of the reasons Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin gave his third year guard only eight minutes of playing time.
Coming off a miss by Lucas III, Pressey races up right side of the floor and whisks an insane, two-hand overhead, no-look pass to Courtney Lee in the opposite corner. All five Jazz players are caught completely by surprise as they hustle back on defense; their rotation looking like a spider’s web that just got hit by a bowling ball. Lee moves the ball to an open Wallace, who hits an even more open Olynyk underneath the basket for the easy two.
Again, this may not seem like much, but it is. The Celtics are one of the slowest teams in the league yet they’re also near the top in turnover percentage (I don’t think I’ll ever get over hysterical that is), and to have a point guard who doesn’t settle for a jumper six inches in front of the three-point line (sorry, Avery Bradley) when attacking in transition is a step in the right direction. For it to come on a no-look pass is very cool. I’m a fan.
More success in the pick-and-roll! Here’s Pressey working with Jeff Green, who slips the screen and darts towards the rim. Pressey still manages to blow past his man, forcing Derrick Favors to slide over off Kris Humphries. Pressey hits Humphries on cue for a wide open baseline jumper, which doesn’t go in. Poor Humphries. Yay Pressey.
Truth be told, I wasn’t convinced Pressey was worth 800 words until I saw this play, which the Celtics later ran with Crawford in his place during the fourth quarter. Sullinger comes up to run a pick-and-roll, and Bass follows, in an effort to either drag his man (Favors) out of the paint or be open for a jumper from his sweet spot.
Thanks to Wallace, who put Utah on its heels by pushing the ball off a missed shot, the Celtics are afforded a mismatch with Richard Jefferson guarding Pressey. Sullinger sets the screen, Pressey reads Kanter’s defense (which is flat-footed) then explodes to the rim for an easy layup. Kudos to the rookie for taking advantage of a convenient situation and turning it into two points instead of running the play as its designed for the Bass jumper (Bass was open).
He won’t always play this well (probably), but Pressey showed he can be an intelligent influence for extended minutes in an NBA game. With no logical answer at point guard until Rondo returns, Pressey should be seeing between 15-20 minutes a night in a backup capacity. What do the Celtics have to lose?