Aaron Nesmith hasn’t had the sophomore year that he would have been hoping for during the off-season.
A new head coach and change in defensive scheme have both served to hamper the second-year guard’s chances of cracking the Boston Celtics‘ rotation this season, which has led to some disjointed performances from the Vanderbilt product.
Nesmith, 22, came into the NBA with a reputation of being a three-point specialist, however, the South Carolina native is shooting just 27.8% from deep this year, which has limited his effectiveness during his 10.9 minutes per game. Still, as a rookie, Nesmith displayed an ability to operate as a spot-up shooter as well as being a threat via movement shooting, ending his first year in the league with a 37% conversion rate on his three-point attempts.
Plenty of second-year players struggle to build on strong rookie years, it’s commonly known as the “sophomore slump,” but it’s how that player bounces back in their third season that defines how long they will remain in the league. Take Grant Williams as an example, he too had a poor second season, but is now a vital piece of the Celtics bench rotation – so there’s still hope for Nesmith.
However, that hope is based upon a strong summer and bounce-back season in 2022-23. For now, we’re only getting glimpses of the former lottery pick during garbage time minutes, which tells us that he’s outside of the main rotation looking in. And according to Hunter Felt of Forbes, Nesmith probably isn’t in the team’s plans, right now or in the future.
“Unless he’s part of a trade—something which is not off the table—Nesmith will be under contract for next season. After that, however, he’s due for a raise from $3.8 million to $5.6 million should the Celtics pick up his fourth-year option. Needless to say, the 14th overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft still has work to do in order to make himself indispensable for the team that selected him,” Felt wrote.
Nesmith is More Than A Shooter
When Nesmith was getting a consistent run in the team during his rookie season, it quickly became apparent that he was more than just a spot-up shooter. Sure, the lottery pick’s primary role was to space the floor, but he also flashed high upside as a slasher and displayed an ability to attack closeouts from the wings.
On the defensive end, Nesmith was a raw but talented prospect. Constantly throwing his body around, the rookie was controlled chaos, and shockingly his all-action style worked to pressure opposing offenses into mistakes.
Ime Udoka’s complex switching system doesn’t afford itself to high-effort low-IQ players, though. You have to understand when to switch, when to help, and when to stand pat – all of which has been a steep learning curve for Nesmith. It’s understandable then, that the second-year sharpshooter has struggled to consistently crack the rotation, and has been consigned to a stop-start season as a result.
Still, over the final few weeks of the regular season, Nesmith has started to show signs of development and may be able to earn himself a spot in the rotation next season. Otherwise, the former lottery pick will likely be moved on before next season’s trade deadline, in a similar fashion to another former lottery pick in Romeo Langford.
Celtics Have Shooters Now
Another issue that Nesmith faces when trying to crack the rotation, is the fact that the Celtics are no longer struggling to hit their threes. In Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Payton Pritchard, Grant Williams, and even Marcus Smart, Boston has a reliable contingent of perimeter scorers, while some of the bench unit are also respectable from beyond the arc too.
So, if Nesmith isn’t needed to provide floor spacing, where does he fit in the Celtics rotation? Will Udoka see the value in the 22-year-olds energetic defense? Or does his upside as a genuine two-way wing with potential as a three-level scorer do enough to convince the Celtics coaching staff Nesmith is worth keeping around?
There are a lot of variables surrounding Nesmith’s future with the Celtics, all of which will be answered in the coming months. But for now, barring injury, it’s unlikely the sophomore shooter sees the floor outside of garbage time.
“Right now, it looks unlikely that the Celtics will trust Nesmith with a larger role unless injuries force their hand. It’s hard to know how much time Nesmith will have to play out of what has amounted to a season-long funk, which means he must take advantage of every opportunity given to him from here on out,” Felt wrote.
And while those limited minutes may be frustrating, Nesmith needs to grab the opportunity wherever it comes, just like he did against the Chicago Bulls on Thursday, April 6, because those fleeting performances are what will interest other teams around the league and help keep you in the NBA beyond your rookie contract.