Chris Babb didn’t come out of Iowa State asking for a lot. He just wanted a chance.
“That’s 90 percent of the battle, just getting a shot,” Babb said. “There’s so much talent, with the D-League, guys coming out of college, veterans. All it takes, all some guys need, is a chance. I was fortunate enough to get one.”
Blame it on injuries, blame it on tanking, but the Boston Celtics have given their share of players such as Babb a chance this season. Babb, who signed a second 10-day contract with the team Tuesday, is one of three undrafted players currently receiving regular playing time for the Celtics, along with fellow rookie Phil Pressey and second-year guard Chris Johnson.
When Jordan Crawford returned to TD Garden as a member of the Golden State Warriors last week, he praised Celtics coach Brad Stevens for showcasing him at point guard, a position he has clamored to play since he was a backup with the Washington Wizards. Crawford’s circumstances are different from Babb, Pressey and Johnson’s, since he already was a veteran NBA player, but in a way he was the blueprint for Stevens giving certain players special opportunities in an otherwise lost season.
“It means a lot, getting the opportunity to play, because a lot of guys who get drafted don’t even get that opportunity,” said Pressey, who has made six starts and averages 13.6 minutes per game. “Me being undrafted, I’ve just got to make the most of my opportunity. I try to just be the first one in the gym and the last one to leave.”
Pressey, a 5-foot-11 backup point guard, impressed coaches enough in summer league to earn a roster spot out of training camp. Johnson came on in midseason to address a lack of depth in the backcourt created by Avery Bradley’s sprained ankle and Keith Bogans being excused from the team. Vander Blue, another 10-day signee, arrived at about the same time but was later released. Babb, who spent the preseason with the Celtics and had been playing for their D-League affiliate in Maine, is the latest arrival.
They are not just token reserves to round out the roster, either. Babb and Johnson spent time on the court together Sunday, manning the wings beside Rajon Rondo during the Celtics’ victory over the Detroit Pistons. Pressey has recorded five or more assists 12 times.
Cynically, one might point out that using such players in substantial roles is evidence the Celtics are content to ride out the string and take their chances in the draft lottery. Then Babb or Johnson hits a big shot, or Pressey whips a pass through the defense for a layup, and it’s apparent that each player has some NBA-caliber skills. All they needed — all they hoped for — was a chance.
“I know I can’t take this opportunity for granted, along with both Chrises,” Pressey said. “I tell them that every day. We’ve just got to continue to work hard and not take anything for granted.”