Pressey handed out a career-high eight assists and didn't turn the ball over during 20 inspired minutes while helping the Celtics rally for a 96-86 triumph over the Charlotte Bobcats on Monday night at Time Warner Cable Arena.
Pressey finished with two points, three steals and a rebound to go along with those eight helpers. He was plus-14 in plus/minus, combining with Gerald Wallace, Courtney Lee, Kris Humphries and Vitor Faverani to provide sustained bench output on a night in which Boston's second unit carried the team.
Half of Pressey's assists came in the fourth quarter on Monday and two of those set up Lee 3-pointers as Boston's lead hovered around double digits for much of the frame.
In his last seven appearances for the Celtics, Pressey has posted 21 assists against a mere four turnovers in 86 minutes of floor time. As Boston navigates the early part of the 2013-14 season without a pure veteran point guard as Rajon Rondo rehabs from ACL surgery, 22-year-old Pressey has been a calming influence. That's unusual for a rookie, particularly one that every team in the league essentially passed on twice in June.
For the season, Boston's offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) is 99 when Pressey is on the floor -- that's nearly three points higher than the team's season average (96.3) and 4 ½ points better than when he's on the bench (95.5). Likewise, Boston's defensive rating is 98.5 with Pressey on the floor, which is 3.3 points lower than the team's season average (101.8) and 4.3 points lower than when he's off the court (102.8). Not surprisingly, Boston's assist-to-turnover ratio bloats from .96 without him to 1.3 when he's on the floor and the team turnover percent dives nearly three percent (to a crisp 15.6 percent).
For a Boston team that struggles to generate consistent offense (or simply generate quality opportunities without turning the ball over), Pressey's impact is undeniable. He endured an up-and-down preseason and was prone to spikes in his turnovers, but his regular-season play has been incredibly steady. And while he still struggles to generate his own offense, his playmaking talents are helping the Celtics generate much-needed bench scoring.
The knock on Pressey coming out of Missouri was an inability to keep opponents honest because of his offensive struggles. Through 13 appearances, Pressey is shooting just 26.2 percent from the floor. What's more, he's averaging a mere 0.583 points per possession, according to Synergy Sports data, which ranks him in the sixth percentile in the league. Of all players with at least 60 offensive possessions this season, Pressey ranks dead last out of 251 qualifiers.
But maybe that only speaks volumes to his impact as a facilitator. Pressey is averaging a mere 2.4 assists per game, but according to the league's new SportVU player tracking data, through Sunday's games, Pressey was averaging 15.2 points generated by assists per 48 minutes. That's second on the Celtics behind only Jordan Crawford (17.8) and that number will go up a bit after Monday's outing.
Defensively, Pressey came out of college with a reputation for being a pest. The early numbers at the pro level haven't been great, but Pressey showed on Monday night how those quick hands can make an impact with three steals (two of which led to layups the other way; he missed a layup of his own on one of the swipes). As coach Brad Stevens noted after Monday's game, "Phil Pressey’s pressure might have been one of the key factors in changing the game."
Pressey's role will get a bit murkier when Rondo is able to return. The addition of the All-Star point guard will thin available backcourt minutes, with Crawford likely to slide to the top backup point guard role. All of which makes these early-season reps all the more important for Pressey. His contract is not guaranteed beyond this season, but Boston has him under its control for three more seasons at pocket change and he's exactly the sort of young depth ball-handler that the team has sorely lacked in recent seasons.
One thing is certain: The 5-foot-11 Pressey doesn't lack for confidence and Stevens has often noted how he plays with a chip on his shoulder. There's plenty of room for growth in his game, and Boston must nurture his development. But the spark and security he's providing as a rookie is certainly beyond his years.