Ode to Phil Pressey, Diminutive Back-Up Point Guard


Without shoes, Phil Pressey is 5’9″ and one-half inches tall.  He is the son of former NBA-player Paul Pressey, a two-time NBA All-Defensive team player who was a stabilizing force for the Milwaukee Bucks of the 1980s.  Paul Pressey is 6’5″.  His other son, Matt, is 6’2″.  Both Matt and Phil played hoops at the University of Missouri.  It was the younger Pressey, listed at 5’11″ (with shoes), who found his way onto an NBA court.  When you watch Phil Pressey scramble around the TD Garden parquet, you can’t help but appreciate the low odds, the mere fact that he is there, scrapping and clawing with his skilled ball-handling and his defensive determination.  As I watched Pressey with fellow Celtics fan friends Jared and Eric a few weeks ago, we wondered how short his mom must be, considering his dad is 6’5″.  Though we were able to use the tools of the interweb to discover his mother played college hoops at Tulsa, we were unable to gain this critical bit of information.

Phil Pressey did something good.  Jared Sullinger was thankful.

Phil Pressey did something good. Jared Sullinger was thankful.

As a 5’8″ high school senior, Phil Pressey dunked on some unknown taller player.  The kind of play that epitomizes his fearlessness.

Phil Pressey’s sophomore season at Missouri began to make scouts drool.  Surrounded by talented shooters, Pressey’s penetration and court-vision sparked Missouri’s offense.  He finished the season with 6.4 assists per game. Though his shooting was suspect, Pressey’s game was gaining notice. Over the course of three seasons at Missouri, Pressey never shot better than 42.8% from the field, and his best season behind the college arc was a mere 36.5%.

Like Tyrone “Muggsy” Bogues before him, Pressey made his impact on the defensive end, hounding opponents and averaging 2 steals per game through his college career.  His draft profile highlighted his ball-handling and play-making ability, as well as his quickness.  Pressey handed out over 7 assists per game as a junior.  The decision to enter the NBA draft after a solid, but not spectacular, junior season, was a curious one. As the draft wound down, Pressey found himself without a team.

With Rajon Rondo on the sideline for what looked to be like a sizable chunk of the upcoming season, Celtics GM Danny Ainge had an eye on the pint-sized point guard.  After a nice stretch in the summer league, Ainge quietly signed Pressey to a three-year league-minimum salary.  What did Ainge see in Pressey?  A younger, less dynamic, but more stable version of the electric Nate Robinson? Another Muggsy Bogues?  Pressey’s quickness, and his ability to make the right decisions with steady ball-handling and pick-and-roll awareness made him a high-floor prospect.  At worst, Pressey can take care of the ball, while pushing the pace, and offering himself as a nuisance on defense.  At best, he will develop a jump-shot and raise his ceiling considerably.  Remember, some of the biggest steals of the draft over the last few years are players whose shooting range was suspect coming out of school (Rajon Rondo, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard).

Starting an NBA career

Thirty-one games into his young career, Pressey is doing exactly as advertised.  In 12 minutes per game, Little Phil is averaging 2.1 assists to only 0.7 turnovers (a 3:1 ratio).  He’s also caused some havoc by collecting a total of 23 steals.  A juicy nugget: 23 steals and only 21 turnovers.  That is downright lovely.  Unfortunately, Pressey’s inability to connect with the net is painfully obvious. The numbers: 4 of 27 from distance (14.8% is rather unseemly).  From within the arc, he hasn’t been much better: 15 of 47 (32%). In fact, Pressey is one of the few NBA players with whom you can play the game: Will he or won’t he take a shot?  In two games, Pressey has played 14+ minutes and refused to shoot.  He has attempted a single field goal in 11 games.  Watching the Celtics bench attempt to score can be rather painful, as they’ve been playing a five-man group (Pressey-Lee-Wallace-Humphries-Olynyk) that has three offensive liabilities on the court at one time.  With Courtney Lee now in Memphis, Jerryd Bayless or Keith Bogans will be taking up the reserve 2-guard role until Rondo’s return, which will slide Crawford to the bench.

On the whole, despite the woeful outside shot, Phil Pressey’s presence has been a plus.  Given more productive shooters around him, he’d be even more valuable, as he can create off the dribble, something the Celtics sorely need.  Practicing against Rajon Rondo will only further to develop his already good defensive game.

Really, though, there’s one reason I’m writing about Phil Pressey: I love watching the little guys.  Under six feet tall and in the NBA? The man is determined.  Tell him he’s too small.  Tell him he can’t shoot.  Tell him he’s lucky to be there.  He’s on a mission to show the NBA he belongs.  We’re behind you, Phil.

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