With all the talk about Trail Blazers All-Star point guard Damian Lillard taking the reins of the team this upcoming season after the departure of several key players, and considering that guard CJ McCollum is primed this fall to get big minutes at both guard positions, coach Terry Stotts might have one question in the back of his mind: Who's going to fill the role of third-string point guard?
Okay, so Stotts probably isn't losing sleep over which player in his stable of guards will man the point for 5-10 minutes a night behind Lillard and McCollum, but hey, it's almost September and training camp won't start for several weeks. And the Blazers will eventually need to sort out, between Tim Frazier and Phil Pressey, who will garner those precious few minutes.
Both Frazier and Pressey are signed to non-fully guaranteed contracts worth less than $1 million each for this upcoming season and, as it stands, the Blazers have 17 players signed heading into training camp (16 if veteran Mike Miller is waived as expected). Forwards Cliff Alexander and Luis Montero are also on non-guaranteed contracts -- making either of them potential candidates to get waived in order to cut the roster down to 15 players before the season starts -- but Portland GM Neil Olshey may not feel the need to keep a fourth point guard on the bench, either, meaning either Frazier or Pressey could get cut by the end of preseason.
Frazier may have the inside track at snagging a roster spot, as he's been with the Trail Blazers since last spring when he signed on with the team after fulfilling two 10-day contracts with the 76ers and after averaging 16.1 points, 9.5 assists and 7.1 rebounds in 41 games with the Main Red Claws in the D-League in 2014, also earning league MVP honors. Blazers fans saw him play 68 minutes last spring -- mostly garbage time -- and man the point for the team in Summer League this past July, when he averaged 9.8 points, 7.5 assists and 4.1 rebounds per game. Though those stats aren't bad -- the assist numbers actually look pretty solid -- in six Summer League games, Frazier also turned the ball over almost four times a night, shot just 16.7 percent from outside and 37.9 percent from the field.
Ostensibly, Pressey was brought in this past summer with a legitimate shot at challenging Frazier for a spot and making the Blazers' roster heading into the season. But what does he bring to the table?
"Phil may be my favorite player I’ve ever been around in the NBA, as a player, a coach, or as an executive," Celtics President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge told the Boston Globe back in July after waiving Pressey. "It was a very difficult morning for me today. He’s a player I’d want on my team all the time. Unfortunately, we just have an abundance of small guards already. It’s unfortunate. He’s helped us a lot in the last two years, and he’s a classy and hardworking player."
Pressey, at 5-foot-11, went undrafted in 2013 after three seasons at Missouri but was signed by Boston that summer and was pushed into action in 75 games -- 11 of them starts -- in 15.1 minutes a night for a rebuilding 2013-14 Celtics squad. But besides Blazer's Edge staff writer Evans Clinchy -- who's covered Boston for years -- many fans in Rip City likely haven't followed the Celtics closely enough over the last two seasons to get much of a look at Pressey.
With Lillard and McCollum -- two of the Blazers biggest threats to score -- expected to gobble up most of the point guard minutes for Stotts this upcoming season, the team may be looking for a game-manager to come in and initiate the offense when both need a breather. And though Pressey may delight fans with his athleticism and potential as a crafty distributor, "reliable" isn't likely a word most would use to describe him at this point in the 24-year-old's short NBA career.
Pressey played three seasons with Missouri from 2010 to 2013, averaging 29.7 minutes a night in 99 career games with the Tigers. In his third year, he led the SEC in assists and put up 11.9 points, 7.1 assists and 3.3 rebounds per contest, earning an All-SEC First Team selection and an AP All-American Honorable Mention. Though Pressey was a decent scorer and distributor that season, he also shot just 32.4 percent from outside in 2013 and turned the ball over 3.5 times a game, coming in tied for No. 16 in the NCAA for most turnovers with 120 slip-ups.
In 1,132 minutes his rookie season, Pressey kept a lid on his turnovers -- he averaged 2.8 per-36 minutes, just a notch above Lillard last season, along with 7.7 assists per-36 -- but shot just 30.8 percent from the field and 26.4 percent from deep. In a crowded Celtics backcourt last year, Pressey appeared in just 50 games, playing 600 minutes and managing to shoot just 36.8 percent from the floor overall and 24.6 percent from three-point range. According to NBA.com shot-chart data, last year he was pretty poor in catch-and-shoot and pull-up situations, also not really capitalizing on open shots. In short, Pressey's struggled with his shooting in two NBA seasons.
For his career, Pressey's on-court/off-court numbers suggest that he slightly boosted Boston's assists and effective field goal percentage when we was playing, but unsurprisingly hurt the rebounding numbers and contributed a few extra turnovers. And though he's likely considered a defensive liability standing at just 5-foot-11, he didn't hurt Boston much statistically as a team defense and actually contributed a few extra steals -- which could be valued in a Blazers offense that may look to run more this season.
It's still summer, and we have over a month until everyone under contract will be required to gather at the team training facility in Tualatin. That said, a closer look at Pressey's numbers both from college and in two seasons with the Celtics might suggest that Frazier has more competition than expected at earning the third point guard spot on the roster, particularly if Stotts is looking to fill that role with less scoring and more distributing.
Either way, though, Portland's third-stringer at point guard isn't likely to earn more than a handful of minutes per night, and if Pressey can show Stotts that he's improved at holding onto the ball, he may push Frazier for not only playing time this fall, but a roster spot as well.
-- Chris Lucia | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter