ST. LOUIS — Earlier this year, an NBA scout attended a basketball game between two Southeastern Conference teams. He was there to observe a handful of players, one of whom was a University of Missouri junior, a point guard named Phil Pressey.
“I liked him in that game, and I’ve always liked him,” the scout told FOXSportsMidwest.com recently.
But as the season continued, Pressey — a 5-foot-10 speedster whose court vision helped him distribute more assists (580) than any player in school history — struggled. There were, at times, errant passes, poor shooting and questionable decisions. When the season ended and Pressey announced his intention to hire an agent and enter the 2013 NBA Draft, the scout was surprised.
“He kind of struggled with some decision making,” said the scout, who requested anonymity when discussing specific players. “He didn’t have a big year. I was kind of disappointed, because I’ve always been a fan of his. He has the quickness to play in the league, and he is a pretty good athlete. But for these guys who are under 6 feet, they have to be really, really good to make it in the NBA. The odds are stacked against these guys.”
Opinions on Pressey tend to be strong. There are those who believe the undersized point man made a mistake by skipping his senior season. Others believe Pressey’s strengths — primarily his ability to see passing lanes invisible to others — will surpass his shortcomings; he will stick in the NBA, they say.
The player, of course, has entrenched himself in the latter portion of that debate. His confidence is high, so high that some close to him have said his decision to chase his NBA dream was made before the 2012-13 season ever started, that it really wasn’t much of a decision at all.
“I’m hearing from a couple teams in the first round,” Pressey said at the NBA Combine in Chicago in May. “That’s what I’m striving for. I know I have a lot of teams in the second round interested in me.”
But the NBA scout, along with two additional NBA scouting experts, leans toward a different outcome, one that projects Pressey being selected later, if at all.
“It’s kind of a ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ thing right now,” said Ryan Blake, senior director of NBA scouting operations.
Pressey’s biggest strength is a given. His ability to create on offense makes him a potential catalyst for any team. He possesses a rare skill that was described by a third scout as “an unselfish, winning brand of ball.” A style that makes Pressey dangerous by making his fellow players more dangerous.
“He’s at his best when he is distributing, getting other guys involved and creating for his teammates,” the first scout said.
While this strength outweighs others, it is not the only one. Scouts say Pressey has the potential to play solid defense in the NBA, if he wants to.
“He is always going to be at a disadvantage with his size, but he can be a pest, defensively,” the first scout said. “He can annoy some people. He’s not afraid to muck it up. He plays with toughness, and I liked that about him.”
Blake specifically mentioned how Pressey’s risk-taking on defense often deflates his reputation as a defender. He pointed to Pressey’s ability to stay in front of players, and how that is skewed by his tendency to try to steal passes.
“He’s got great anticipation skills,” Blake said. “But he takes chances.”
Another asset working in Pressey’s favor is his genes. His father, Paul Pressey, was a highly successful NBA guard/forward for 11 seasons and now is an assistant coach with the Cleveland Cavaliers. This means more potential connections for the younger Pressey.
The idea of Pressey throwing alley-oops off NBA pick-and-rolls is enticing, but he will need to persuade a team to overlook current rough edges in his game.
His size will hurt him. Certain teams refuse to take chances on sub-6-foot players.
Additionally, this year’s draft class, while not the strongest in recent memory, may be deepest at his position. Point guards projected to be drafted before Pressey include Michigan’s Trey Burke, Syracuse’s Michael Carter-Williams, Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum, Miami’s Shane Larkin, Dennis Schroeder (an international prospect from Germany), Murray State’s Isaiah Canaan, South Dakota State’s Nate Wolters, Baylor’s Pierre Jackson, Virginia Tech’s Erick Green, North Carolina State’s Lorenzo Brown and Detroit’s Ray McCallum.
These two factors — lack of size and abundance of competition — will “push him to the second round, or undrafted,” according to the third NBA scout.
In addition, Pressey’s shot is questionable. He averaged a career-high 11.9 points per game as a junior but shot more often and less effectively than he had in any of his previous seasons at Mizzou. His 37.6 field goal percentage and 32.4 three-point percentage were his worst as a Tiger.
“His sophomore season, he played well,” Blake said. “This year, he was forcing some things.”
“He needs to be a pass-first point guard,” the first scout said. “From what I’ve heard and read, he is, at least in the workouts leading up to the draft, trying to impress too much, trying to shoot too much. That really isn’t his role. If anyone chooses to put him on their roster, I don’t think they want him to score. Because he’s not a great shooter. He’s going to be undersized, and it’s going to be difficult for him to finish at the rim.”
Experts see little to no chance of Pressey being a first-round selection next week.
“A low percentage of teams are going to do that,” Blake said.
Instead of first-round money and guaranteed contracts, the three scouts interviewed think it’s more likely that Pressey will have to fight his way onto a team, potentially through the summer league, NBA Developmental League or a trip overseas. If he does land on an NBA roster immediately, likely as a late second-round pick, he could be a sparsely used reserve, a backup point guard who is tasked with developing the lacking aspects of his game during practice.
“I’m sure he understands the risks of entering the draft, given his family background and whatnot,” the first scout said. “If you’re not a first-round pick, you don’t have a guaranteed contract. He is by no means a sure-fire first-round pick. So, there’s obviously a risk involved.”
A risk that might be bigger than Pressey expected when he made his decision.
Follow Ben Frederickson on Twitter (@Ben_Fred), or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.