Josh Richardson hasn’t been on the Boston Celtics roster for long, yet his presence within the rotation is already under scrutiny from the fanbase. Shockingly, the disdain surfaced during the win against the Miami Heat, which Richardson didn’t participate in due to injury.
In Richardson’s absence, head coach Ime Udoka decided to roll the dice on sophomore wing Aaron Nesmith, who has been struggling for playing time early in the season. After impressing during the 2020-21 NBA playoffs and continuing to earn plaudits throughout Summer League and preseason, Nesmith has found himself riding the bench.
The Vanderbilt product has already received three DNPCD’s over the first eight games and averaged just six minutes of playing time heading into the Miami game, per Basketball-Reference. Nesmith’s struggle for minutes comes directly on the heels of the Celtics acquisition of veteran wing Josh Richardson, who has been averaging over 21 minutes per night to begin the year.
However, with Richardson sitting out the Miami game, Nesmith provided the Celtics with something they’ve been sorely lacking in this year – spacing. In 18 minutes of game time, Nesmith scored 13 points, with nine of them coming from behind the three-point line, as the 22-year-old wing staked his claim for a more prominent role within the rotation.
“We’ve watched him playing five-on-five, knocking down shots, doing what he did all preseason and summer league. It was just some first-game jitters, he’s a young guy that hasn’t played a ton of basketball, rushed some things early,” Udoka explained when asked about Nesmith’s absence from the rotation, “It wasn’t just that he played poorly, it’s that other guys had played well, Grant really played well early, Romeo played well early, so we went with that line-up and our veterans. So he got squeezed there a little bit for minutes but always had confidence in him; he’s a guy we know can light it up and bring us a spark off the bench, and being solid on defense was an added bonus there.”
Richardson is a feisty perimeter defender and has been earning minutes alongside Marcus Smart and Dennis Schroder due to that trio’s ability to apply pressure on defense. Yet, Nesmith is a high-energy defender who makes up for being wet behind the ears with hustle plays on both sides of the court, something that he displayed as the Celtics shut down Miami’s league-leading offense.
Celtics Twitter Calls for Richardson’s Role to be Reduced
As the Celtics have stumbled into the season, one of the most significant talking points has been their lack of floor spacing, especially with the bench unit. Sophomore’s Payton Pritchard and Aaron Nesmith are the team’s best low-usage shooters but have hardly seen the floor, which hasn’t allowed them to build consistency.
Richardson, who has been the beneficiary of a consistent role, has failed to make an impact in the majority of games he’s played. So when Nesmith began to assert himself against the Heat, Celtics Twitter voiced their wishes for Richardson to operate as a backup moving forwards.
Udoka has preferred to stagger one of Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown with the second unit, and having an additional shooter on the floor will only serve to open up driving lanes for the team’s All-Star wings. Twitter users have been quick to note how limited the Celtics spacing has looked in recent games, yet with Nesmith in the rotation, the Celtics shot 39% from three, which is one of their best shooting nights so far.
Numerous Celtics fans have been calling for this rotational change for weeks at this point, with many pointing the finger at Richardson for the lack of three-point shooting off the bench.
Aaron Nesmith ‘I’m ready to play at all times’
Speaking to the media after the Celtics defeated the Heat, Nesmith was asked how difficult it is to come into a game off the back of inconsistent playing time and perform the way he did.
“I’m always prepared, so whenever my name is called, it’s not a shock to me. I keep the same schedule every day, so whether I play or don’t play, I’m ready to play at all times,” Nesmith explained.
Richardson, a 35.8% three-point shooter for his career, may find himself riding the bench in the coming weeks if Nesmith continues to make his shots and perform on defense.
With the Celtics facing the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday, November 6th, all eyes will be on Udoka’s rotations and if Nesmith gets a playing opportunity.