Aaron Nesmith has wasted no time putting himself on the radar of the new Boston Celtics coaching staff.
If you showed anyone some of Nesmith’s Summer League, preseason, or training camp highlights at the beginning of last season, they would have called you crazy. He’s drastically improved his form by trimming unnecessary movement, as well as adding some familiar combinations to his scoring repertoire.
Brad Stevens flipped the Boston Celtics guard rotation on its head this offseason. With Kemba Walker now gone, Stevens promoted Smart to starter status and brought Dennis Schroder to back him up despite holding onto Payton Pritchard, who most anticipated would get the second string nod.
But Stevens didn’t stop there.
As a long-time fan of Josh Richardson, Stevens made his wish come true and essentially traded nothing for him to give the Boston Celtics some size and versatility in their backcourt.
However, Stevens did not deal Romeo Langford or Aaron Nesmith, meaning there would be a three-way battle for a potential starting spot and Jaylen Brown’s back-up.
I love that the Boston Celtics will have multiple battles going on at each position group for minutes. It makes training camp more meaningful and intense, which Udoka and Stevens can agree is essential.
So, what has Aaron Nesmith shown to convince the Boston Celtics coaching staff that he deserves a starting spot?
Aaron Nesmith’s shooting won Danny Ainge over in the draft room, but his shot creation is what will win Ime Udoka over, especially after the acquisition of J-Rich.
It’s vital that Nesmith can run DHO’s and pin downs and hit catch and shoots, but he won’t get valuable minutes unless he can do something unique.
Creating his shot or scoring off the advantages Boston’s top 5 will create for him fit under that umbrella of uniqueness.
We’ve seen Nesmith go to Jaylen Brown’s patented short turnaround jumper off a dribble-drive and one dribble pull-up against defenders that go under in the Summer League and preseason.
These two moves may seem meaningless and straightforward, but if they can be polished and hit consistently, Nesmith’s upside and role on the Boston Celtics changes drastically.
Having a move like a turnaround jumper off the dribble is enormous for a shooter to have.
Defenses will run Nesmith off the 3-point line and eat anything he does inside the arc. However, if Nesmith can make them think twice about running him off the 3-point line by adding a few inside the arc counters to his game, his half-court gravity increases.
With Nesmith’s size, he’s already a threat at the rim, so defenses will naturally rotate to protect the rim after running him off the line, but with a turnaround middy, that rotation will be pointless.
A one-dribble pull-up has a similar impact.
Defenses will go over the top to stop any catch and shoot or stationary triple from Nesmith, but most defenses will go under when he’s handling the ball.
Pull-up jumpers in the NBA are much more complex than they are given credit for. They require a good handle to pull off a clean transfer into the shooting pocket and require a quick trigger and discipline at the top of the shot to ensure accuracy.
All this increases exponentially behind the 3-point line, which is why players like Kevin Durant, Jayson Tatum, and KAT are so unique, as they can complete this action at such great heights.
I’m not saying Nesmith will be as good of a shooter as Tatum, but having a one-dribble pull-up makes him a threat as a ball-handler. Defenses won’t be able to sag off of him when he’s putting the ball on the floor because, at any second, he can pull up and punish the defense with three points.
In their latest preseason game against the Magic, Aaron Nesmith dropped 25 points on 16 shots and hit three triples, but none of those things impressed me more than the four assists he had.
With Tatum, Brown, Smart, Schroder, Richardson, and Horford out, the C’s ball-handling was destined to be by committee. Pritchard and Langford got the bulk of the touches, but Nesmith put himself in the role a few times, and the results exceeded all expectations.
Nesmith was no LeBron James that night, but his willingness to move the ball from side to side and while in the act of scoring was particularly stunning.
As chaotic as he plays, Nesmith was abnormally comfortable getting to his spots and finding his guys, forcing the issue and capitalizing on the defense’s mistakes. These are the foundations of an ancillary playmaker.
I doubt Nesmith will get too many reps as a ball-handler throughout the season, but there will be plays when he gets swung the ball, and a catch and shoot three won’t be an option.
In those situations, Nesmith will be forced to rely on his shot creation which we touched on early, and moving the ball, which Udoka has taken a particular interest in.
Jae Crowder is an excellent example of this role I’m painting.
Last season, Crowder was third on the Suns in passes made but was dead last in average seconds per touch. Strange right?
Crowder either shot the ball or moved it along. It’s a simple recipe, but it translates to high-level team success, and the hope is Nesmith can become that connector.
Defense/hustle: POA looks better, less fouling, leveraging length/strength, big-time helper potential, never gives up on the play
“Shooting with size” was a phrase that rang out across Boston’s sports media outlets for most of last season.
As the Boston Celtics struggled to string together wins, Danny Ainge reassured the fanbase that he would do everything he could to turn the team around but stood tall on his stance as to how he would go about doing so.
He didn’t want to bring in any defensive or perimeter liabilities, and he didn’t want to break up any team chemistry. He ended up trading two second-round picks for Evan Fournier, who may have made more of an impact if not for his struggles with COVID-19.
Anyhow, Fournier is gone, and the Celtics require a starting shooting guard or small forward, depending on where Ime Udoka plays Jaylen Brown. Some believe that Josh Richardson or Romeo Langford will be thrust into this sort of role, but I think it will be Aaron Nesmith.
All his offensive skill sets aside, Aaron Nesmith’s improved defense gives me cause to believe he will be inserted into the starting lineup.
Between Smart, Nesmith, Brown, Tatum, and Williams or Horford, the Celtics will have an overwhelming amount of length, activity, and IQ to stunt the team’s actions possession after possession.
In that lineup, Nesmith is the worst defender, but he’s flashed much-improved point of attack defense, and his foul trouble has seemingly lessened since last season.
He’s starting to learn how to use his seven-foot wingspan and muscular frame to his advantage rather than letting smaller and quicker guards get him in the air or latch onto one of his arms to get free throws. Combine his improved instincts with his already high motor, and you got some severe team and isolation defensive potential.