Aaron Nesmith found his shot and his place in the Celtics rotation these past two weeks after rarely making threes in two stints to begin this season in Boston. He told CLNS Media last week that he was forced to slightly adjust his game, transitioning toward defense and hustle plays to retain playing time following the fastest transition from the NBA Draft to a rookie season.
Nesmith rode the renewed opportunity to shooting rhythm, and over the past month his 53.3% three-point shooting led the league.
Jerry Stackhouse, Nesmith’s college coach at Vanderbilt, joined the A. List Podcast on CLNS with A. Sherrod Blakely to track Nesmith’s journey to the Celtics and predict what’s next.
“In five years, Aaron Nesmith will be an all star,” Stackhouse said.
Evaluators considered Nesmith the best shooter in the 2020 NBA Draft, so a shooting surge with Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker drawing defensive pressure isn’t surprising. Nesmith will still need to improve his spot-up shooting and secondary playmaking to become considered an all star. His ability to block shots, rebound and secure loose balls with his 6’10” shows a defensive floor once he learned the team’s system and plays.
“He was coming into a situation with established all stars on that team,” Stackhouse said. “So I knew it’d take some time to really find his footing. You’re starting to see that now.”
Stackhouse discussed his career and experiences in the league, from dealing with Dean Smith’s hierarchy system at North Carolina to earning enough shots to score 57 points in 2001. His reputation became his hard-nosed, aggressive play style and willingness to scrap with opponents.
Nesmith, quietly, displayed that same fire after pouring in a put-back in front of Jimmy Butler on Sunday, finishing the basket then bumping Butler, who shared some words with the rookie across half court.
“I would hate to fight (Nesmith),” he said. “And you know that’s saying a lot. I think he has that type of toughness and no quit in him.”
Nesmith entered with the opposite depiction of his game, considered a specialist. Stackhouse coached games where Nesmith grabbed double-digit rebounds in his first season. As a sophomore, his all-around scoring game revealed itself.
“(Nesmith) has a sense of toughness about him. I knew that eventually that he was going to find his stride, because he works so hard. He shoots the basketball too well,” he said. “He has just an uncanny knack of just making sure the ball goes in, doesn’t matter whether he’s off-balance a little bit, or anything. Even in the post, he can score from all three levels.”
An all-star appearance will be difficult to achieve in the same conference as Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Bradley Beal, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Khris Middleton, Ben Simmons Pascal Siakam, Damontas Sabonis and Butler for the near future. Nesmith will be able to score with a steady three-point shot though and abundant open looks next to high-level teammates.
Just as Brown and Tatum navigate the transition to playmaker, Stackhouse sees Nesmith needing to do that same. He flashed the first sign of an ability to create for others with a dribble penetration dump-off assist to Tristan Thompson via a wraparound pass in the post in Friday’s loss to Chicago. Now, with Brown out for the season, extra minutes and quick decisions will test his ability to impact the game against opposing starting units.
“My message to him was make sure you make your teammates better. Share the ball, make sure in those opportunities you got two on you, you got to make the right play to them and you got to earn that trust because that’s what you’re going to see at the next level,” he told Nesmith at Vanderbilt. “You’re going to be sharing the court with other good players, that’s how you endear yourself to more established players, when you come in and you’re making those extra passes and doing all the dirty work and that’s who he is.”