Cedric Maxwell calls the best shooter in the 2020 NBA Draft “Crash” on Boston’s radio broadcasts. He began Friday blocking Demar DeRozan on a help side rotation, after Payton Pritchard fouled DeRozan shortly before Aaron Nesmith crashed into the play.
Nesmith slid seemingly defenseless off DeRozan’s back and onto the hardwood. Him colliding with bodies inside became a regular sight few expected from the Celtics rookie this year, so much that he knows how to avoid injury.
“I feel great,” Nesmith said on Monday after grabbing four more boards against Portland. “I call it an ‘art of falling.’ You got to know how to fall.”
Nesmith’s shot is improving, he’s now 40% on catch-and-shoot three, but his array of hustle rebounds, blocks and steals remain central to his recent success. In an exclusive interview with CLNS Media’s Garden Report, Nesmith sounded more like Marcus Smart as he admitted he needed to adjust his game to impact the Celtics after a slow start.
His three-point percentage stood at 18.8% on his first 16 attempts. Brad Stevens watched him struggle to run the floor and react to defensive play calls in training camp and preseason. The speed of the pro game hit differently and an abbreviated ramp-up following a major injury last January didn’t help. He sat 14 times in Boston’s first 23 games, with his three-point percentage only ticking up to 31% overall. His release appeared rushed, at times hitched in limited catch-and-shoot tries during sporadic playing time.
Shooting didn’t comprise his entire game if you listened during the draft combine. Asked about his strengths, Nesmith listed floor-spacing, but also the ability to guard one-through-four, while playing with high intensity. The hustle wasn’t cliché, it stood out when he tip-toed along the baseline tracking rebounds in an early game against Cleveland.
“It’s definitely a little more new, just because of the situation and what the team needs,” he said. “It’s just something that the team needs right now to help win games … I know my role and I’m trying to do that to the best of my ability.”
Nesmith figured out what the group needed from the bench, aware of how teammates acted on and off the floor, particularly as they missed Marcus Smart on the defense during his injury. He watched the impact Tristan Thompson and Robert Williams III’s aggressive offensive rebounding had on wins during the winter west coast trip. Despite the separated locker room, he embraced the closer personal time they shared at Auerbach Center.
He returned uncomfortably aggressive. Almost willing to do anything to get involved in a play as he tumbled and threw himself everywhere. He shot 18.8% from three again, but the Celtics narrowly won the minutes he played, particularly in Oklahoma City when his two steals and a block helped push a 24-point swing during a comeback win.
Nesmith then hit a three in two minutes at Denver, two more in eight minutes in the win over Phoenix. It became easier for him to take advantage of limited minutes, as shooting no longer decided whether he had a good or bad game.
“You go in and you make the most of it,” he said. “If you’re not doing it and you’re not prepared, that says something about you and your work ethic when you’re not taking the onus.”
Shooting 60% from three over his last seven games from three, Nesmith is progressing to the mean as an elite shooter. A few set plays into catches off movement above the arc help. The trust of a teammate like Brown feels better. Nesmith, buried for so much of the season, could become one of the most relied-upon rookies into the postseason.
Stevens went to Payton Pritchard and Romeo Langford late against Portland instead and a fully healthy team will likely rely on its veteran wings. They’ve been the ones, however, to struggle to hustle which should be the simplest response to this year’s struggles. Nesmith already knows that.
“I definitely wouldn’t say it’s surreal,” he said. “Playing basketball you play to win, you play to compete, so everybody in the NBA, everybody on this Celtics team is a very competitive person, so being able to play in those moments that’s what you play the game for. It’s fun for me. Going forward, having a spot in the playoff rotation, it’s not up to me. I’m just going to continue to go out there and do my job and help this team make winning plays.”