Aaron Nesmith took advantage of his increased role as a starter against the Orlando Magic. Drafted as a shooting specialist, Nesmith has gone some way to disproving that label in recent months with his defensive hustle and ability to attack the rim.
We saw flashes of Nesmith's growth toward the end of last season and then got another peek in Summer League. Nesmith provided further evidence that the Celtics have a two-way wing prospect in their hands.
Nesmith had some great scoring moments, many of which came in different ways from all over the floor. When asked about his offseason focus and improvements, Nesmith said, “being able to put the ball on the floor, read close-outs, read second defenders, making second moves once I get past the first. And keeping my head up to look for open passes."
Nesmith puts the ball on the floor, attacks the defense after curling off the screen, recognizes the help defense around the paint before stopping and hitting the turnaround jumper. Hayward-Esque, Kobe-Esque, however you want to describe the scoring movement, this is a new wrinkle to Nesmith's scoring arsenal, which could lead to him having a more significant offensive role within the rotation.
We saw the same scoring movement again later in the third quarter.
"Just reading the defense, being myself, and relying on the things that I worked on this summer. It was a different role I had to play tonight, so just stepping up and playing that role to the best of my ability," Nesmith said after having a 12-point third quarter.
Of course, we still saw the Aaron Nesmith the Celtics drafted last season, a sharpshooting three-point specialist who is a threat when stationary or in movement.
Two of the sophomore wing's threes came courtesy of plays like the one above, one from each corner. The spacing that Nesmith provides will only grow as he becomes more efficient from the NBA three-point range. Spacing works in two ways; first, it creates cutting opportunities for a team's slashers or big men and second, it will allow Nesmith room to attack his defender due to the space behind his man. If Nesmith can develop his first step further, and begin to beat defenders off the dribble on occasion, then the sky's the limit for where he can take his offensive game.
"He's had a good amount of carryover from Summer League. He was extremely aggressive there. He's carried that into open gym and training camp and gets an opportunity tonight with those guys sitting out, and he played very well. Very good complimentary piece, we talk about our young guys taking that leap and progression, and I think our young guys like him, Romeo, Grant, and Payton – those guys have all done that. I'm very proud of them, proud of the work he puts in. We see it every day, and he took advantage of tonight, and obviously, he played very confident and free, and that's what we want him to do with those guys sitting out," Udoka said after watching Nesmith take over the third quarter against the Magic.
Beyond his scoring exploits, Nesmith also finished the game with four assists - the joint highest among Celtics and second-most in the overall contest. Where most of the South Carolina native's scoring came in the third quarter, the lion's share of his playmaking came in the second, with Nesmith notching three dimes.
Take this play for an example of Nesmith's growing game recognition. After beating the closeout, the second-year wing drives towards the elbow before getting cut off by the defense. Instead of panicking, Nesmith surveys the floor to find the open-man and makes the right pass.
"The game's definitely easier to read. The game's slowing down and will continue slowing down in the coming years and games." Nesmith continued, “I was just letting the game come to me, taking what the defense was giving me, didn’t try to force anything. But I definitely tried to be more aggressive with the lineup that was out there today.”
It would be unfair to expect Nesmith to maintain this level of performance during the regular season, where his role projects to be more marginalized. However, making the most of opportunities like these when they arise is the best path forward for a young player looking to earn himself a larger slice of that rotation pie.
With another game left on the preseason docket, it would be fair to assume we see Nesmith obtain another start in a similarly enhanced role as the one he operated in against the Magic. Things are shaping up for Nesmith this offseason, with an impressive Summer League, and now has the chance to stake his claim for a prominent role within Ime Udoka’s plans for the regular season.
The Celtics will wrap up their preseason preparation against the Miami Heat this Friday night.