When the Boston Celtics struck a deal with the Indiana Pacers to acquire Malcolm Brogdon last summer, Aaron Nesmith was an afterthought. Brad Stevens had moved swiftly to ensure he resolved a weakness that the Golden State Warriors had callously exposed time and time again throughout the six-game series.
If that deal meant parting ways with a former 14th pick who had struggled to cement a role in the rotation, along with Boston’s on-again, off-again big man in Daniel Theis, a slew of end-of-bench talent that was due to enter free agency, and a first-round pick that was never going to get developmental minutes, then so be it.
However, since joining the Pacers, Nesmith has been afforded the one thing he would never have received in Boston: time. With two-thirds of the season in the books, Nesmith has already played his highest tally of regular-season games (54) and has established himself as a starter. Sure, the numbers Nesmith’s putting up don’t jump off the box score, but they’re respectable, and they’re only going to improve as he gets more comfortable with being on an NBA floor consistently.
“I played with him for three years, I think. The talent was always there. Just a tough situation, you know? Behind Gordon, me, and JB, there wasn’t a lot of room for opportunity, just being honest. Super super hard worker, a really good guy, and really just getting an opportunity to play with freedom and add value to a team,” Tatum said following Boston’s February 23 overtime victory.
Since joining Indiana, Nesmith has earned the trust of the coaching staff and has grown in importance to the Pacers, so much so that Rick Carlisle is willing to sacrifice some size to ensure the Vanderbilt product is seeing the floor with the starters. So far this season, Nesmith has played as a shooting guard (15% of the time), small forward (47% of the time), and power forward (38% of the time).
“That was my little bro. That was my workout partner. We used to work out together. So, I would like to see him do well here and continue to do well. He’s been playing great, playing hard, and that’s my guy,” Jaylen Brown said.
The Pacers currently sit 12th in the Eastern Conference, four games behind the eighth-placed Atlanta Hawks, so their chances of making it into the play-in tournament and giving their young core a taste of postseason basketball look slim. But for Nesmith, who already has twenty playoff games under his belt, it’s the consistent regular-season reps that will be most beneficial.
So, with another year left to run on his current contract, and over twenty games left on the current schedule, Nesmith has an opportunity to continue carving out a role for himself in the league and proving that if he joined the Celtics at a different point in their development cycle, he could have been a legitimate rotation player for them.
Timing and situation are key in the NBA. Fortunately, Brad Stevens understands this and ensured that Nesmith was being sent to a team where he could finally begin to flourish and make good on the potential that saw him enter the league via the lottery in 2020.