From the first day of training camp, Pressey has been greeted by a fist bump and a few words of encouragement almost every time off the floor in games or practices by Lee. The sixth-year guard, who often shares the court with Pressey as part of the Celtics’ second unit, appears to be offering tips to his young teammate. But his message is more self-serving, Lee joked this week.
“He’s the point guard when I’m out there, so I’m saying, ‘Get me the ball, man!’” Lee said.
Lee may pretend their interactions are out of selfishness, but Pressey said the veteran is more helpful than he lets on. Much of Pressey’s recent improvement comes from being more comfortable thanks to the advice of veterans like Lee, with whom he has played 126 minutes this season.
“He’s always been like that since day one,” Pressey said. “He just wants me to do well — and he wants to do well himself — so he’s always harping on me to make me look for him as much as possible. The more [the vets] talk to me, the more they get me going. It helps me out, being a rookie and all, so whether it’s good or bad, I’m all ears to what they’re saying.”
Lee must be satisfied with the shots Pressey has given him so far. Despite his minutes tracking behind what he’s been used to in his career, Lee has had arguably his most effective season in the NBA. After a frustrating first year in Boston last season, Lee is posting a career-best shooting accuracy from the floor, at the free throw line and beyond the 3-point arc. He is averaging just 7.6 points in a mere 16.9 minutes per game, but is also averaging 16.1 points per 36 minutes — a career-high mark and the third-highest per-minute scoring average on the team, ahead of Jordan Crawford and Avery Bradley.
Even in limited playing time, Lee admits this has been a drastic improvement from his 2012-13 campaign, when he shuffled from the starting lineup to the bench, got hurt, never felt clear in his role and eventually lost the confidence of departed coach Doc Rivers.
“I let it mess with me mentally instead of just continuing to work and sharpening my craft and what I do,” Lee said. “That year’s behind me and now we’re back on track.”
Lee’s bounceback season actually began almost as soon as the last one ended. Lee said he took less than two weeks off, a short break following a rigorous season, before joining former Rockets teammate Chandler Parsons in Los Angeles to work out with renowned basketball trainer Rob McClanaghan. All the work was done with the primary goal of getting back his confidence, which wavered for Lee after the worst year of his career.
Nothing can ever go easily for Lee in Boston, though. The same night he spoke about his improved play, Lee sprained his left knee in a game against the Grizzlies and missed the Celtics’ next two games. He was not present in the locker room prior to Friday’s game against the Cavaliers and he did not travel to Milwaukee with the Celtics for their game on Saturday.
While the Celtics will miss Lee on the court, Pressey and Kelly Olynyk will miss him on the sideline. His good-natured ribbing has helped assimilate the rookies into NBA life and his tips have accelerated their adjustment to the NBA game. The fact that his own improvement has come hand-in-hand with theirs may or may not be a fortunate coincidence for the Celtics.
“My locker’s right next to both of them, plus [Rajon] Rondo‘s right here and Kelly’s next to me, then we’re together on the court a lot,” Lee said. “So I talk to them, try to help them understand, pick up the game flow, know what we’re looking for out there and just stay positive with them.”
“It’s like the whole team, pretty much, my rookie year [in Orlando],” Lee continued. “That was a close team. Everybody got along. Everybody could talk to each other. We didn’t really have any egos. Jameer [Nelson], Rashard [Lewis], Tony Battie. Dwight [Howard] was here and there. Those guys helped me out a lot. I just try to pass it on.”
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