Close your eyes and think back to what Aaron Nesmith looked like early in the season. It wasn’t hard to understand why Brad Stevens was pumping the breaks on expectations. He looked, well, like a kid dropped on an NBA court without a summer league and very little practice time in a brand new system.
Fast forward to the present and Nesmith is contributing and giving his coach reason to keep playing him. Even though he’s known best of his shooting, Aaron is finding his role on this team through hustle and defense.
Old friend Jared Weiss of the Athletic does a great job of breaking down several plays to highlight his play and offers this summary.
Hustle is a skill. Nesmith keeping that engine revving without redlining and running through the proverbial tape on every possession makes just as much impact as a passive player who hits a couple of 3s or grabs a bunch of rebounds every night.
What makes him fun to watch is that he is decisive, looking to defend with his eyes and feet rather than his hands and voice. He doesn’t point out assignments, he chases after them. Obviously, you have to be constantly communicating with your teammates to ensure everyone is on the same page, but you can’t get stuck spending the possession telling everyone else what to do instead of doing some of it yourself. As a rookie, most players are just trying to figure out how to deal with what’s in front of them to the point that they tend to lose their peripheral vision and miss half the play. Nesmith keeps his head on a swivel.
Last season Romeo Langford earned his minutes through his efforts on the defensive side of the floor before an injury cut his playoffs short. I’m still not sure if Nesmith plays a big role in the playoffs if the team is at full strength, but when have they been at full strength this year? Even then there might be certain matchups where Stevens would turn to Aaron to provide more floor spacing. Being able to do that without needing to worry too much about the defensive side of the ball is important.
It hasn’t been an easy season for anyone in the NBA, let alone rookies experiencing all this for the first time. However, the lessons and reps Aaron has gotten this season should pay big dividends down the line.