With Romeo Langford out due to neck soreness, the Boston Celtics needed to find someone willing to take his role as a low-usage offensive piece but a stout perimeter defender. Enter Aaron “Crash” Nesmith, a player once billed as a sharpshooter who has proven to be far more diverse. For 26 minutes and 29 seconds, Nesmith provided the Celtics with a reliable defensive presence, especially on the defensive glass, where he pulled down seven rebounds against the New York Knicks on Saturday night.
Here is an excellent example of Nesmith fulfilling his defensive duties, fighting through two offensive players to secure the ball before hustling to get the rock to Jayson Tatum, which ignites a fastbreak that ends in a Payton Pritchard three. Having another body willing to crash the boards was impactful and satisfying for a Celtics team that struggled to control the glass against the Golden State Warriors just 24 hours prior.
Nesmith didn’t just help the Celtics limit second and third offensive possessions. He also took on the role of guarding some of New York’s better offensive players. Throughout the game, we saw the sophomore wing take turns on Evan Fournier, Julius Randle, Taj Gibson, and Kemba Walker, which highlighted the young shooter’s ability to slide up and down positions on the business end of the court.
One of the more underrated aspects of Nesmith's game is his quickness, and more precisely, his body control when playing at pace. In the above clip, we see an excellent example of how Nemsith can cut off a player's driving angle without giving up a foul, which is impressive when you consider his shot contest. Another thing to note is that Nesmith holds his own against Fournier and doesn't look outmatched physically. Instead, it would seem that the Knicks wing is the one who struggles to assert himself on the drive.
We can see other examples of Nesmith's physicality on defense in this game too, but most of the time, they were in the half-court setting, which is arguably a more difficult task.
Take this play, for example, where Nesmith is guarding Randle on the post-up. Randle has become known for his physicality in the mid-post and often removes defenders from his path using his shoulder or a nice drop-step spin move to lock the defender on his hips. Nesmith doesn't give any ground though, and instead gets low, staying connected to his physically dominant counterpart and forcing him into a contested fade-away jumper that even Tatum would have been proud of converting.
Of course, Nesmith isn't Langford and doesn't possess the elite-level second jump that the Indiana native has displayed in recent months. Still, it would seem that the Vanderbilt product has sneakily improved as a help defender out of the weakside corner. Grant Williams has also enhanced this area of his game and has seen an increase in minutes. Sure, his three-point shooting helps, but it's becoming increasingly evident that Ime Udoka rewards defensive versatility rather than offensive potency.
This defensive possession by Nesmith is an excellent example of his improvements as a weakside help defender. The 6’5” wing reads the drive and rotates over to help protect the rim. His presence as an extra body in the paint forces Fournier to abandon the shot attempt while in the air and dish the rock to Nerlens Noel, who has relocated towards the nail. Yet another heady play by Nesmith follows as he quickly changes his body positioning to contest the mid-range pull-up and add some resistance to what would otherwise have been an open look.
The fact that the shot goes down is irrelevant to this play, as even the best defensive possessions can end up with registered points on the board.
Detractors will point to Nesmith's 0-of-5 shooting as a reason why he failed to seize his opportunity in the starting lineup. And while the lack of scoring certainly didn't do Nesmith any favors, his showing on defense will undoubtedly have seen his stock rise with Udoka and the coaching staff.
We all know that given time and opportunity, Nesmith will begin hitting his shots. He showed as much last season when he broke into the rotation under Brad Stevens. It takes time for players to find their rhythm, especially within a new system, and figure out where their shots will come from.
It would seem that Nesmith has been paying attention to the rise in prominence of Williams and Langford and looked to replicate their success against the Knicks. Now, with the Celtics missing numerous members of their rotation, Nesmith will get another chance to find his scoring touch against the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday night. But don't be shocked if Nesmith focuses on defense again because that's his golden ticket — the same as it is for everybody else on the roster.