The 2020 off-season was not as active as most would have liked after the Boston Celtics fell to the Miami Heat in 6 games in the bubble. Many expected big changes, big moves, and lots of trades. With three first-round picks in a draft which most considered to be very shallow, fans believed Ainge might have had an ace up his sleeve come draft night.
With all the Gordon Hayward and Kemba Walker rumors ensuing their Twitter timelines, Celtics fans were under the impression that one of or both of those two would be moved along with one or two of the C’s first-round picks.
What followed these preconceived notions was Ainge using two out of the three of his first-rounders on Aaron Nesmith and Payton Pritchard while trading away the last pick to the Memphis Grizzlies which ended up being Desmond Bane. Gordon Hayward and two second-rounders were dealt with the Charlotte Hornets for the largest TPE in league history and Kemba Walker remained on the team as he recovered from a stem cell injection on his knee.
Ainge did not trade up, down, or out and he did not get anything tangible in return for Hayward. Enes Kanter walked to the Blazers and Ainge used the entire MLE on Tristan Thompson. Brad Wanamaker went to the Warriors and he was replaced by Jeff Teague.
All in all, the Boston Celtics came out of the 2020 NBA off-season with two more rookies, a new center, a new backup point guard, and a trade exception which they opted to use later in the season at the deadline.
Ainge underperformed that off-season. For someone with his background and his experience, not finding a replacement for Hayward until the deadline, trading away arguably the best rookie of the three C’s draft picks, and bringing in a center that did not fit the Celtics’ offensive or defensive scheme, was bad.
He did not address Boston’s holes which bled throughout the bubble playoffs and he made no effort to surround Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown with premier talent after they showed they were capable of carrying a roster deep into the playoffs for the second time now. But that’s not what this article is about.
This article is about one of those draft picks Ainge did exercise, a lottery pick that turned out to be Aaron Nesmith from Vanderbilt. Nesmith was considered the best shooter in the class with some defensive potential given his physical characteristics and someone who would just play with a lot of energy.
Many believed his skill set would directly translate to the NBA and he would have no problem transitioning to the NBA, even on a team as top-heavy as the Boston Celtics. However, with no off-season and no time to get familiar with what exactly the Cs did on both ends of the floor, Nesmith was set up for failure.
Fans rivaled in anger as they watched him receive DNP after DNP. When he did play, he looked lost. He was all over the place, his form looked discombobulated and he was rushing everything. It was obvious he was not ready to play but given how shallow the Celtics were at the small forward and shooting guard positions, there was a role for Nesmith to fill.
Boston had little to no floor spacing in the playoffs in the bubble, and they had even less to start the 2020-21 season. With Daniel Theis, Tristan Thompson, and Marcus Smart sharing the floor at one, teams could suck in and limit the Jays’ penetration without worrying about giving up three-pointers. Nesmith was drafted to avoid this contusion but with no off-season, he simply was not ready to take on that big of a role. Luckily for Brad Stevens and Boston Celtics fans, Nesmith turned out to be a quick learner.
Through all the DNP’s and garbage time minutes throughout the Celtics’ season, Nesmith continued to keep his head up and work on his craft in hopes of cracking the rotation. Towards the end of the season, Nesmith managed to find his stroke. He shot 44.1% on 2.8 three-point attempts per game in April and had four 15+ point games. His form was significantly smoother and he was playing at a more conduced pace.
His defense was fantastic and he made his mark on Brad Stevens not with his shooting, but with his hustle plays. In that same month, he was averaging 1 offensive rebound per game despite playing just 20 minutes per game. That’s 1.8 offensive rebounds per 36 minutes, an elite number for a six-foot-six wing.
This revelation or rather resurgence changed the way the Celtics had to view Aaron Nesmith’s long-term future with the franchise. Many believed Nesmith to be a small trading chip for the Cs to acquire a mid-level role player from a tanking team, but now those same people want to keep him. Why?
It’s simple, he showed he can fulfill the role that Ainge drafted him to fill right out the gate, only it took him a few months to put it all together. The Boston Celtics have not had a reliable movement shooter since Marcus Morris and, if you don’t count him, they haven’t had one since Jae Crowder.
This lack of movement floor spacers has crippled the C’s offense, especially come playoff. Not only does their shooting help immensely, but their movement alone frees up driving lanes and spots on the floor for the Jays to score. Just look at what the Heat did to the Celtics in the bubble with Duncan Robinson. Nesmith is unlikely to turn out like Robinson but even if he can become just half of that, Boston will be in good shape.
He is not off of the trading block, but like Romeo Langford, there is no harm in bringing him back and unlike Romeo Langford, he is more likely to develop and reach his ceiling faster since he will be much more involved on the offensive end.
Nesmith should not be traded for a replaceable and low-level veteran, but he should not be kept out of talks to acquire a low-level star. With a full off-season under his belt and a new coach that will be sure to get him more involved than Stevens did in the former part of the season, I expect Nesmith to come out and play as he did in April for the entirety of the season.
With the Boston Celtics’ elite developmental staff, his form will be faster and cleaner and he will move more fluidly around screens. His defense will continue to improve and his relationship with the franchise’s two best players will grow.
I believe in Nesmith and there’s no reason to try and run him out of town after just one season.