In a season of perpetual change, one that's seen the Celtics carry 40 different players, roster space has often been at a premium and, on more than one occasion, the Celtics were forced to waive an end-of-the-bench player to create space for incoming bodies.
And despite the fact that Pressey, with his team-low $816,482 minimum salary, would have been an easy player to part with at various points in the season, he's one of the 10 players that remain from the team's opening-night 15-man roster.
The Celtics needed Pressey a year ago while thin at the point guard spot and with Rajon Rondo rehabbing from ACL surgery. But Boston drafted point guard Marcus Smart, had a healthy Rondo at the start of the 2014-15 season, and eventually inked Evan Turner, who has spent a good amount of time this season directing the offense.
And yet Pressey has found a way to stick around. He utilized a solid summer league showing to survive through July 15 when his contract became guaranteed for the season. Boston elected to waive players like Chris Johnson and Vitor Faverani in order to facilitate in-season deals that brought back too many bodies than they had space for. Heck, the team has even eaten heftier guaranteed contracts like those of Faverani ($2.1 million), Will Bynum ($2.9 million), and Chris Douglas-Roberts ($915,243) when it would have been cheaper to part with Pressey.
There have been times when you half expect to hear Elton John's "I'm Still Standing" blaring from Pressey's locker stall this season. But the team showed a lot of faith in an undrafted guy that, before Wednesday's game against Memphis, had logged healthy DNPs in eight of Boston's previous 10 games. In fact, in Boston's 11 games for the month of February, Pressey played a total of 17 minutes in four appearances. He even went to Maine for the first D-League appearance of his NBA career in early February.
Through it all, Pressey patiently waited for his opportunity, quietly honed his game away from the bright lights of game action, and did what you absolutely must do to survive in this league: Take advantage of your opportunities.
With deadline acquisition Isaiah Thomas sidelined the past three games with a bruised lower back, Pressey emerged as a steadying presence at backup point guard. He's averaged 7.3 points, 5.3 assists, 2 rebounds, and 1 steal over 21 minutes per game. Pressey is plus-30 over 63 minutes of floor time for a team that won those three games by a total of 14 points.
The advanced numbers are even more impressive. The Celtics own an offensive rating of 106.5 during Pressey's floor time -- or 10.4 points per 100 possessions higher than the team's average during that three-game span. What's more, the team's defensive rating with Pressey was 84.4, or 6.3 points below an already stellar mark (90.7). Pressey's net rating of plus-22.1 is downright staggering (and only cult-hero-in-the-making Gigi Datome has a better mark in that span at plus-33.7).
Maybe Thomas' arrival has rubbed off on 24-year-old Pressey. He seems more aggressive the past three games, fearlessly attacking the basket as if seeing how the undersized Thomas operates motivated him to do the same. Pressey has noted that the coaching staff had shown him clips of Thomas even before his arrival.
There was a sequence early in the fourth quarter of Saturday's game against the Pacers in which Pressey hauled in a long rebound and sprinted out in transition. He raced past a pack of yellow jerseys, turned Rodney Stuckey around in the lane, and finished a layup over him while being fouled. Boston's sideline erupted, high-5ing Pressey as he walked by before heading to the charity stripe.
It was Stevens who said he went to Pressey after the Celtics acquired Thomas and had a conversation with him about the likelihood that his playing time would be further diminished moving forward. But Thomas' injury last week in Miami created a need for a steadying second-unit ball-handler.
"I told [Pressey], he's a really valued member of our team," said Stevens. "In our organization, he works the right way. If he doesn't play, he's the loudest guy on the bench; and if he does play, he's an energizer. He's not going to play perfect, but nobody is, and if you can sustain that and not get down and be confident, there's always a role for you. And that's a great compliment."
Pressey has worked with the strength staff to maintain his conditioning. Boston's hectic post-All-Star schedule hasn't offered him much practice time to get any sort of on-court work, but he often runs extra sprints or does treadmill work on offdays.
"It's tough to continue to do it every single day, but Coach has been telling me that you never know when your time is going to come so just stay ready," said Pressey.
And he listened.
Pressey posted a double-double (10 points, 10 assists) while sparking Boston's rally from a double-digit deficit in Friday's win over the Magic. He's been a dogged individual defender, getting into his opponent's body and making things difficult. The league's player-tracking data suggests that Pressey's opponents are shooting just 36.8 percent overall over the past there games, or 7 percent below their season averages. They've burnt him a bit beyond the 3-point arc, but those players are shooting a meager 25 percent on all 2-point shots (3 of 12 overall). More importantly, Pressey has been pressuring the ball and making it difficult for teams to get into their offensive sets, especially when he picks the ball up before midcourt.
Stevens has admitted that Boston wouldn't be on a four-game win streak without Pressey's spark.
“It feels good because I know I’ve been putting in the work," said Pressey. "It kind of stings sometimes when you don’t play and you’ve been putting in the work as hard as you are. Coach has been telling me to stay ready. Any time during the season your name is going to be called and when your name is called you have to be ready to go."
Thomas could return as early as Monday night against the 76ers, though his bruised back could need more time to heal after a nasty fall in Miami. Eventually, Pressey is going to return to break-in-case-of-emergency status. He's OK with that.
Pressey's contract for next season is nonguarnateed yet again and he'll likely have to sweat out another summer league before at least ensuring his payday. Regardless, he'll show up every day, do his work, and be ready when his name is called.
"[Pressey has] been here and ready game in and game out, but hasn’t really gotten an opportunity, but he hasn’t bowed his head at all or been upset -- he’s just been an ultimate team guy," said Kelly Olynyk, one of his closest teammates. "When his number is called, he's delivered. It's unbelievable the work he puts in on a daily basis."
We'd say it's almost as unbelievable as the fact that Pressey had stuck around this season, but the past three games have proven why the Celtics have gone out of their way to keep him here.