Pressey Has Flashes of Rondo in His Game

WALTHAM, Mass. – Phil Pressey isn’t 6-foot-1. He doesn’t wear No. 9. He wasn’t drafted in the first round out of the University of Kentucky.

But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have some Rajon Rondo in his game.

Pressey has quite possibly been the most impressive player in Boston’s camp. That’s not to say he’s been the best player, but it is to say that he’s contributed in a way that wasn’t necessarily expected.

The undersized point guard was Boston’s leading assist man during preseason action despite averaging only 18.8 minutes of action. He led the team in both total assists (24) and assists-per-game average (4.0). His ability to orchestrate the offense hasn’t quite been on Rondo's level, but it has been pretty darn good for an undrafted rookie.

Phil Pressey

Phil Pressey has displayed a penchant for on-the-money passing this preseason.
Brian Babineau/National Basketball Association

“I think he’s shown a ton,” head coach Brad Stevens said of Pressey. “I think at times we’ve played our best basketball with him on the floor.”

That’s one heck of a compliment Stevens is throwing Pressey’s way. On a team full of veterans who have contributed throughout their careers, Pressey has helped lead the team to some of its best moments.

Take, for instance, the incredible comeback Boston mounted during its second preseason game of the season. The Celtics trailed the Knicks by as many as 23 points in the fourth quarter of that game but Pressey sparked the team to a dramatic comeback. The point guard accounted for 19 of Boston’s 37 fourth-quarter points (eight of his own, and 11 via assist) as the team rallied to take a 102-101 lead in the final 30 seconds. The Celtics didn’t come out on top, but Pressey’s skills were on full display.

Although that was a preseason game, it was in a sense Pressey’s coming out party. His performance told everyone that he can compete at the NBA level, and we’ve been watching him closely ever since.

So have his coaches and teammates. Everyone on Boston’s bench loves what Pressey brings to the table, and they’ve seen flashes of Rondo in his game.

“Obviously I think they both can see things develop pretty quickly,” said Stevens. “They both understand all five positions on the court and where guys are going to be and where they think they might be. Obviously one is a multiple-time All-Star and 27 years old and an NBA champion, and the other is a rookie in the NBA. So there are a lot of differences, but I see some similarities.”

Jared Sullinger seconded that opinion, saying, “They both love to pass the ball. That’s one thing that’s great about those guys is they’d rather pass than shoot.”

Which brings us to the most striking similarity of all: the way these guys pass.

We’ve watched opposing NBA players get “Rondo’d” for years now. The All-Star point guard has a ridiculous combination of ball handling and vision, which allows him to school defenders while handing out dazzling assists. Pressey has also shown an affinity for dishing out flashy assists, including a couple during last night’s win over the Brooklyn Nets. That shared trait between Rondo and Pressey hasn’t gone unnoticed.

“I mean that’s obvious,” Jared Sullinger said with a smile after being asked if both players like the flashy pass. “That’s obvious.”

Something else becomes obvious when a player is comfortable with attempting such passes. It means they’re dripping with swagger and confidence, knowing that they can put the ball on the money regardless of the pass' difficulty level.

Pressey’s confidence is one characteristic that has helped him become an NBA basketball player. He’s undersized, but he has always figured out how to make up for that in other ways.

“It’s not an accident that he’s here,” Stevens said. “He is a good player. He’s a hard worker. He cares. He’s an easy guy to coach. All of that stuff adds up at the end of the day, and you can see it in the exhibition games.”

It also doesn’t hurt that all of those traits are being multiplied by the presence of Rondo. The All-Star has taken the rookie under his wing. Rondo is teaching Pressey the nuances of the game, all while pointing out the youngster’s strengths and weaknesses.

“Phil is learning from Rondo every day,” said Sullinger. “Rondo is always in his ear telling him what to do, so he’s just mentoring Phil to make sure he’s that player.”

Sullinger continued while alluding to Pressey’s confidence: “When you have someone like Rondo in your ear telling you what you can do, that really helps you out. So I mean, some of that is Phil. He came into training camp like that. And then you add the Rondo-confidence and Rondo being in his ear…”

And what do you get? Phil Pressey.

He is 5-foot-11. He wears No. 26. He went undrafted out of the University of Missouri.

Fortunately for Boston, he also has a little bit of Rondo in his game.