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With Jaylen Brown out, this is Aaron Nesmith’s tryout

The sophomore has a chance to make some noise before the postseason

Atlanta Hawks v Boston Celtics Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

After Brad Stevens traded Josh Richardson, Romeo Langford, and a first round pick to the Spurs for Derrick White, it was largely viewed as the Celtics identifying a guy they loved and paying whatever price it took to get him. However, a possible unintended benefit of the deal was opening up a lane for Aaron Nesmith and we saw that last night after Jaylen Brown left the Hawks game with a sprained right ankle.

The severity of Brown’s injury is unknown right now, but for what it’s worth, Ime Udoka said after the game that Brown lobbied to return, but he was ultimately held out out of an abundance of caution. Brown did not participate in practice today after “some swelling and some pain” overnight and is unlikely tomorrow against the Grizzlies, but it doesn’t seem like a long-term injury.

Udoka has whittled down the rotation to eight players with Derrick White, Grant Williams, and Payton Pritchard rounding out the second unit. Daniel Theis has seen spot minutes as a fourth big, but there’s been little need for another wing defender/shooter. However, in last night’s comeback win over the Hawks, it was Aaron Nesmith that started the second half with the starters and if Brown’s out for any extended period, this could be a late-season opportunity for Nesmith to campaign for postseason playing time.

Nesmith’s minutes against Atlanta were largely unproductive (0-for-5 from the field including missing two wide open threes), but as CelticsBlog’s Keith Smith points out, Nesmith’s enigmatic play was a plus-10 on a night where Boston turned a 17-point deficit into a 14-point win going away.

Despite being advertised as the best shooter of the 2020 NBA Draft, he hasn’t found his stroke just yet. After the All-Star break last season, Nesmith shot 38% from behind the arc and looked like the player coming out of Vanderbilt. Whether it’s because of a lack of opportunity or reps in the G-League, shots just haven’t been falling in this sophomore slump and he’s had to rely on his defense and hustle plays to find minutes on the floor.

When considering potential 10-day contract candidates, Ime Udoka said of recently signed Malik Fitts and Kelan Martin, “we’re looking for a specific skill set and body type and some of the things that match well with our team and we think those two fit into that role.” Like Brown, both are a sturdy 6’5. So is Nesmith. For the most part, he’ll be relied on to not make mistakes on the defensive end and space the floor on offense. These aren’t meant to be star-turning minutes, but on-the-job experience that should pay dividends in the future.

Back in 2012, Avery Bradley replaced Ray Allen in the starting lineup with just about the same amount of regular season games to go. Disregarding the drama between Allen and Rajon Rondo, it was a shot of confidence just at the right time and a move that would eventually vault AB for good. This isn’t to suggest that Nesmith could supplant Brown, but the promotion could serve similarly heading into the playoffs and more so, next season.

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