Phil Pressey is the proverbial Little Engine That Could on the Celtics roster. The C's had 41 players on the roster at different points this past year, and Pressey survived each trade and each waived contract and found himself on the roster at the end of the season, even appearing in the Celtics last game of the season - and not in garbage time either.
Brad Stevens clearly values Pressey's abilities both on and off the court, as he relayed to ESPNBoston's Chris Forsberg.
"Like, 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 him. And that's a great compliment."
Pressey has been lauded for his work ethic since he signed with the Celtics in the summer of 2013, and that is one of the major reasons he has stuck around as an undrafted free agent. Pressey is always standing on the bench supporting his teammates and is always positive even when faced with DNPs. But for an NBA salary, you could find a cheerleader anywhere. What makes Pressey valuable to the Celtics is that even with sporadic playing time, he puts in that extra work to ensure he is ready when his number is called. Pressey's ability to push the pace and distribute the ball at a high level has endeared him to his current coach and one of the best in the organization's history as well in Tommy Heinsohn. When the offense stagnates, Heinsohn can often be heard clamoring to get Pressey in the game because he will pressure the opposing guards with his bulldog mentality and push the pace on offense.
Pressey's value on the court was never more evident than when Isaiah Thomas injured his tailbone and was forced to miss eight games this past March. The first game Thomas missed was a showdown with the Grizzlies at the Garden. Over the previous 16 games, Pressey had only played a total of 21 and a half minutes (with 12 of those minutes coming in garbage time of the Celtics embarrassing blowout loss in Cleveland). Nevertheless, Pressey played 18 strong minutes against Memphis and the Celtics were able to come out with a huge win. Then, two days later against Orlando, Pressey had his best outing of the season. In a game the Celtics started sluggishly and trailed by double digits at the half, Pressey spearheaded a rally, posting a +18 in a game the Celtics only won by seven. Pressey played 27 minutes, finishing with 10 points on 4-5 shooting to go along with 10 assists, two steals and even threw in a block for good measure (rim protector?). The Celtics could have folded without their best scorer, but they were able to post a 5-3 record during that stretch with Pressey serving as the backup point.
Pressey can certainly fill in for stretches, but moving forward, his game still needs work before he can be a viable full-time backup point guard. The knock on the Missouri product will always be his ability to reliably make outside jumpers. Pressey did extensive work on that jumper this past offseason, but he is still not a threat from the outside. According to NBA.com's stats page, on all shots classified as jump shots, Pressey shot a measly 28.3% this past season. When Pressey entered Game 4 against Cleveland, it was clear the Cavaliers didn't respect his jump shot at all, going way under on screens, giving Pressey at one point a wide open mid range jumper that he missed badly. Also, Pressey's height can sometimes be a detractor on the defensive end. More often than not, he makes up for that size disadvantage with his tenacity and lighting quicks, but the fact remains that his lack of size can be exploited (how did Phil only get to 5'10" while pops measures in at 6'5"?).
A plus for Pressey moving forward is that probably the best guy in the league for him to model his game after is now on the Celtics roster. Pressey obviously doesn't have the same jump shot as Thomas, but he could definitely learn a great deal from Isaiah on how to attack gaps on the perimeter and attack the rim with unorthodox finishes and get to the foul line. This year, Pressey already showed a much greater ability to get to the rim and finish than in his first year in the league. That should only improve if Pressey can work with Thomas this summer and learn further how to use his size as an advantage to find holes and create contact.
There is certainly value in having a young, hungry player at the end of the bench. Although he is still a project, Pressey has shown he can provide spot minutes at the point when injuries crop up, and his skill set fits well with the pace and space system Brad Stevens is implementing in Boston. Danny Ainge may be tempted to use the last roster spot to take a chance on another player, but the Celtics have put in two years developing Pressey and could do a lot worse than the second year guard.
With Pressey's work ethic, it is all but a guarantee he will come back this summer as an improved player. What's not guaranteed, though, is his contract and spot on the Celtics roster. The Celtics have to decide by July 15th if they will guarantee his deal for another year or instead make him a free agent. After being undrafted, Pressey has had to prove himself each and every day to stay in the league. So far, he has done just that. Unfortunately for him, the road towards a roster spot won't be any easier this summer than it was in either of the past two. Whether it's in summer league or in summer workouts, he will have to prove once again why he deserves a roster spot. Judging by Pressey's work ethic and constant positive energy, I wouldn't bet against him climbing that mountain and earning a spot on the Celtics roster for the third year in a row.