For most of the 2020-21 regular season, rookie Aaron Nesmith found himself on the fringes of the Boston Celtics rotation. Five months in, he had yet to score more than 13 points or play 30-plus minutes in a single outing. The talent was clearly there, but he had struggled to secure a regular rotational spot on a team that was in dire need for someone with his exact skill set.
Then in late April, as the Celtics were in the thick of the playoff race trying to stave off the beckoning Play-In Tournament, Nesmith made a breakthrough. In a win over the Charlotte Hornets, the former Vanderbilt sniper set a career-high with 15 points and 31 minutes played. Two nights later, as Boston beat the San Antonio Spurs, Nesmith logged 30 minutes and set a new career-high of 16 points.
He would go on to equal that 16-point mark twice in the final eight games, playing less than 17 minutes just once. The run even caused Vanderbilt head coach Jerry Stackhouse, a former NBA All Star himself, to declare Nesmith a future All Star. With the playoffs right around the corner, Nesmith had finally become a regular member of the Celtics rotation.
The timing of Nesmith’s ascension couldn’t have been better for Boston. With star Jaylen Brown out for the postseason with a wrist injury, the Celtics are in need of shooters to space around Jayson Tatum more than ever. Enter Nesmith.
Coming out of Vanderbilt, offensive ability was never a question for the wing. Although his Commodore career was cut short, Nesmith proved he was an NBA-level talent on that side of the ball. After a solid freshman season (11.0 points, 5.5 rebounds), Nesmith leveled up during his sophomore campaign. In just 14 games before a right foot injury cost him the rest of the season, he averaged 23 points per game on a blistering 51 percent shooting from the field and a laughable 52 percent from behind the arc.
His shooting stroke is still present in the TD Garden. He’s made 37 percent of his long-range attempts this season, a number that has ticked up to 42 percent over the last two months.
The only question mark surrounding the 14th overall pick’s game was on the defensive end. But with a full regular season campaign, albeit a weird and truncated one, under his belt, the defensive concerns aren’t as bad as precipitated. He’s doing enough to stay on the court, which is about all you can ask from him at this point in his career.
Whether or not that will be enough in the playoffs remains to be seen. But on a Celtics roster that has a shocking lack of depth seemingly all of a sudden, Nesmith’s presence could be key. He played 14 minutes during Boston’s Play-In win over the Washington Wizards on Tuesday night, helping the C’s lock up the seven seed. Now, the mighty, star-studded Brooklyn Nets await, possibly seeking revenge for the fleecing Danny Ainge committed eight years ago.
The Nets are a deep, versatile squad. As of now, the Celtics are not. But Nesmith can unlock more dangerous lineup combinations. A small ball lineup of Kemba Walker, Marcus Smart, Nesmith, Tatum, and Grant Williams could provide enough shooting for Boston to run-and-gun with Brooklyn.