Celtics

Nesmith Maximizing Sporadic Opportunities

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It is no secret that the Boston Celtics’ bench production from the wing spot has been lacking this season.

Boston’s Inconsistent Bench Woes Creating Disconnect

Aaron Nesmith, however, has taken advantage of his recent playing time, and Celtics’ head coach Brad Stevens is starting to notice.

The Celtics drafted the 6’5″ sharpshooter out of Vanderbilt with the 14th overall pick in last year’s draft. His slow start to the season was not surprising, as a foot injury limited him to 14 games in his final year of college. Pair that with no Summer League and a shortened training camp and preseason, it’s tough to ask someone who hadn’t played basketball in 10 months to contribute to an NBA team.

Fortunately, Stevens stuck with him through the rough patches and is starting to see the returns. Nesmith deserves a ton of credit as well, as his tireless work ethic has earned the respect of both his coaches and teammates.

Although his numbers are nothing special — averaging just 4.3 points per game on the season — he is averaging 10.8 points per contest over his last five games. Even more impressive, however, is that he is shooting 60 percent from three in that span.

Energy and effort

While his play has been sporadic over the season, his effort has always been there. If there is one way to make an impression on your teammates, it’s making the hustle plays that don’t always show up in that stat sheet.

One thing Celtics fans appreciate about him is that he isn’t afraid to put his body on the line. The way he throws his body around has even caught the eye of his all-star teammate Jaylen Brown.

Stevens loves to say the “ball finds energy” and Nesmith is a living embodiment of that quote. Lately, it seems as if he is always in the right place at the right time. Whether that be grabbing offensive rebounds, blocking shots or even loose balls just bouncing to him.

Shooting with confidence

Nesmith’s shooting out of college was the biggest reason why Danny Ainge took him with their lottery pick. He shot an unbelievable 52.2 percent from three on 8.2 attempts per game his last year in college. While he struggled shooting to start the season — making just 31.8 percent of his triples in the month of January — he has heated up as of late.

He shot 40.9 percent from deep in the month of April, and it is no coincidence that he has started to make more of his shots with more consistent playing time. If he can keep shooting like this, it can drastically change Boston’s playoff ceiling. This would allow the Celtics to potentially bring three snipers in off the bench in Nesmith, Payton Pritchard and Evan Fournier.

He also adds another dimension to the Celtics’ offense in that he can come off a pin-down screen and is a threat to let it fly. With most of the wings on Boston’s bench being more specialized on the defensive side of the ball, none are the offensive threat that Nesmith can be.

He’s even started adding the next step in reading the defense if they jump out to take away the three. In the clip below, DeMar DeRozan jumps out to contest the shot. Instead of shooting the contested three, he drives to the rim and finishes over Jakob Poeltl.

He has now gone back-to-back games finishing with a career-high 16 points. The midseason jump Nesmith has experienced is huge, as it opens up the floor for Brown and Jayson Tatum to attack more. The Celtics now have someone defenses will have to worry about on the perimeter, instead of ignoring Semi Ojeleye and Grant Williams in the same spot.

Improvement on defense

If there is one thing Stevens is consistent about, it’s that young players have to play defense. Far too often early in the season, Nesmith would look lost on the defensive end. While the effort was there, he was kind of just running around without a purpose. Now, he understands the rotations and uses his length and athleticism to disrupt offenses.

The impressive defensive run started in their recent win over the Hornets, where he blocked three shots and added three steals. His defense was a big reason why the Celtics were able to hold on to their fourth-quarter lead.

Perhaps even more impressive, though, is how Stevens used him against the Spurs. Late in the game, the Spurs were running everything through DeRozan in the post. Boston countered this by having Nesmith run at him with a hard double-team. After DeRozan passed the ball, Nesmith would be the one to scramble and find the uncovered man. He was able to execute this brilliantly, showing off just how far he has come defensively.

Marcus Smart stamp of approval

While hearing about your good play from your coach and the media is great, there is nothing better than getting a shoutout from Mr. Winning Plays himself. Even after the historic 60-point performance by Tatum, Marcus Smart went out of his way to give Nesmith a shoutout on Twitter.

Hopefully the encouragement from Nesmith’s teammates allows him to keep his confidence and continue his stretch of good play. While it might be too late to play his way onto an all-rookie team, the improvement he has shown has to give Celtics fans a sigh of relief. After seeing the seasons that Desmond Bane and Saddiq Bey have had, Nesmith showing he can play proves that Ainge made a good pick at 14.

With the Celtics’ bench being a weak spot for the majority of the season, they can now feel comfortable with where they are at if Nesmith proves this hot streak is legit. It’s great to see the hard work finally pay off.

Aaron Nesmith isn’t just a piece for this season, but a piece for the future as well.

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About Mason Urban

Sports writer for The Spectrum newspaper and contributor for The Lead Sports Media

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