The Boston Celtics made it two for two at Summer League, as the team brushed aside the Denver Nuggets 107-82. Sure, most of the roster played well in this game, but two players shone so bright you needed sunscreen on your couch.
Both sophomores Aaron Nesmith and Payton Pritchard dominated the game from the opening tip to the final whistle. Playing vastly different roles, the second-year guard and wing formed a formidable partnership as they combined for 54 of the Celtics' 107 points.
In game one, Nesmith had a rough shooting night against the Atlanta Hawks, going 1-for-8 from deep and 5-for-14 overall. Game two was a different story; the young wing drained seven of his nine three-point attempts and finished the game 13-of-18 overall.
“I wasn’t too happy with my performance in the first game. I didn’t shoot the ball the way I wanted to or the way I am capable of. I made sure I go through the same routine, change nothing, kept the same confidence in my shot, and came out today and shot it the way I know I could,” Nesmith said.
Nesmith, who came into the league billed as a sharpshooter, displayed an all-around offensive package. The Vanderbilt product was borderline unguardable from lay-ups and floaters to threes off the catch and spot-up opportunities in the corner.
Summer League head coach Joe Mazzulla put Nesmith’s performance down to confidence and hard work. “I know he’s (Nesmith) more confident; he’s more comfortable on the floor,” Mazzulla said. “And when he gets open looks, we know they’re going in. I think that’s a testament to the work he’s put in on the off-season.”
Yeah, the scoring numbers are great, and so is the consistency in which he finished his long-range attempts, but more interesting was how diversified the second-year wing’s shot profile was.
“I’m working on a bunch of shots that I saw last season that I wasn’t able to make. A lot of contested shots. I’m looking at better ways to create looks for myself, finding shooting pockets, and shooting over people,” Nesmith explained after the game.
While Nesmith’s game-high 33 points will undoubtedly be the talking point, he also put in a respectable performance on the defensive end. Nesmith made the right switches, battled for position when guarding a ducking big, and never giving up during lock-and-trail situations. He showed the defensive effort that earned him a consistent role towards the end of last season.
I've said this countless times now. But Nesmith was drafted as a shooting specialist and now projects to be a solid two-way wing prospect.— Adam Taylor (@AdamTaylorNBA) August 11, 2021
Nesmith projects to have an increased role next season, and his shot profile from this game, along with his defense, will go a long way to earning him a bigger slice of the rotation - should he stay consistent. When asked about his game and shooting consistency, Nesmith told the media, “Consistency is everything, especially with shooting. I’m very meticulous with my routine.” Let’s hope that meticulous routine carries this shooting performance into the regular season.
Payton Pritchard also produced a gargantuan performance, as he carved up the defense like a surgeon does their patient. The Oregon product ended the game with 21 points, 12 assists, and 8 rebounds.
“He (Pritchard) did a great job of knowing what the game needed, and the game needed for him to make the right play for other people. I thought he was great at that. He ended the game with 12 assists,” Mazzulla detailed.
One noticeable difference in the game against the Nuggets was that Pritchard only shot 5 threes compared to his 14 against the Hawks. With a more judicial shot selection, the second-year guard was able to inflict damage as a playmaker and penetrator where his ball-handling and speed were too much for Denver to contend with.
As Ime Udoka said during his introduction as Celtics head coach, “27th in assists last year, we want to have more team basketball there”, so it’s safe to assume Udoka loved Pritchard’s quarterback performance.
Mazzulla also noted that Pritchard’s next step should be to control his teammates, which would allow him to dictate both the pace of play and who should be the play finisher. “He’s learned to manage the game. Now he needs to learn to manage his teammates.”
With both Nesmith and Pritchard dominating the game, the Celtics can feel justified in their development of the team's younger players. Second and third-year guys are supposed to dominate at this level. But as we all know, doing what you’re supposed to do isn’t always an easy task.
Let's hope we see a similar performance against the Orlando Magic and that other “veteran Celtics” stamp their authority on the game in a similar manner.