Pressey pressing for playing time

BOSTON -- Poor Phil Pressey. The undrafted rookie is playing the best basketball of his brief NBA career and he's a very distant second when it comes to interest in Boston Celtics point guards.

While Rajon Rondo's ascension to captain and his return to game action dominated Friday's headlines, Pressey has calmly used an uptick in minutes in Boston's overhauled backcourt to showcase his talents to far less fanfare.

But consider this: Over his past 82 minutes of play, spanning six-plus games, Pressey has dished out 25 assists and committed only one turnover. If Kelly Olynyk doesn't let a catchable entry pass slam off his chest in the paint during Monday's loss to the Houston Rockets, there's a chance that Pressey would be riding one of the more incredible turnover-less streaks, by a rookie or otherwise.

Drawing his first NBA start on Wednesday night against the Toronto Raptors, Pressey handed out 10 assists without a turnover over 26 minutes in an 88-83 triumph that snapped Boston's nine-game losing streak. Reverting to a reserve role with Rondo's return on Friday, Pressey still logged 22 minutes and dished out nine helpers with no turnovers in a 107-104 loss to the Lakers.

"You know, sometimes guys just thrive with that extra opportunity," said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. "He's taken advantage of it, and to his credit has really done that."

A week ago, Pressey's role with the team was incredibly murky. During a loss in Golden State, he logged his first DNP since the opening week of the season, squeezed out of a tightened rotation with the Celtics leaning on recently acquired Jerryd Bayless to help run the second-team offense.

With Rondo's impending return, it was fair to wonder if Pressey might be bound for the D-League for reps. But on Wednesday, the Celtics dealt Jordan Crawford -- the team's starting point guard in Rondo's absence -- to the Warriors as part of a three-team swap, a move that created a potential opening for Pressey.

As Rondo's minute restriction loosens, Pressey's time might diminish a bit. But he's taking advantage of his current opportunity and reminding everyone of his potential as a steady ball handler at the back end of the roster.

"When you don't have somebody on your back, where you know [that if] you mess up you're going to come out, it makes you feel a lot more comfortable out there," said Pressey. "My teammates, they've really been believing in me, so that's helping me out as well."

Pressey's game is far from perfect. He's shooting an abysmal 23.9 percent from the floor this season (21-of-88 overall) and just 17.6 percent beyond the 3-point arc. Scoring efficiency was his biggest question mark entering the league and it was enough for all 30 teams to pass twice on him. The Celtics, who phoned right after the draft to express their interest, are still trying to build confidence in his jump shot and Pressey is often the last one off the floor while working on jumpers after practice.

Which is why teammates were excited to see two 3-pointers fall for Pressey on Friday night against the Lakers. Opposing point guards are straying from him to help on Boston's other shooters and Pressey made Los Angeles pay with a pair of triples in the middle frames (both on second-chance opportunities).

Stop me if you've heard this before about a Boston point guard, but if Pressey wants to thrive at the NBA level, he has to develop a jump shot that at least keeps opponents honest. His teammates have implored him to shoot with the goal of building that confidence.

"We want him to shoot the ball as much as possible when he's open," said Jared Sullinger. "He understands that and, being a passing point guard, it's hard for him not to [pass to another open player]."

Pressey remains steadfast that he's more quarterback than receiver.

"I love to pass and that's one of the things I've been gifted with is court vision," he said. "Some guys shoot, some guys are athletic and I really feel passing is my gift so I try to do that as best as I can."

Despite standing only 5-foot-11, Pressey has been a competitive defender, using his speed to pester opposing ball handlers. Among regulars, Pressey owns the best defensive rating (99.6) on the team (and that number spikes to 104.5 when he's off the floor). His individual defensive numbers, as logged by Synergy Sports, are decent (0.853 points allowed per play; 51st percentile) but there's room for growth.

Pressey turns 23 next month and the Celtics have him under their control at minimal money moving forward ($816,482 next season; $947,276 in 2015-16). He's exactly the sort of guy Boston could have used as an emergency option at the point guard spot in recent seasons.

Rondo's return will eventually push down Pressey's minutes, but the rookie doesn't think that will necessarily hurt his development.

"I owe a lot of it to [Rondo], because even when he was out, he's been talking to me, telling me what to do, telling me to hold the guys up," said Pressey. "Just watching him and everything in practice helps me out in a game. Just having him back out there on the court, you can see our team is really starting to talk more and everything is starting to come together a little bit better."

Pressey is making the most of his current opportunity, and just like on the court, he's not fumbling it away.