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2020 NBA Draft Profile: Aaron Nesmith

Vanderbilt's Aaron Nesmith is a damn promising deep shooter, but the rest of his game raises question marks and an injury shorted sophomore season has hidden just how elite his shooting really is.

General Info: 21-year-old Sophomore, played for Vanderbilt University. From Charleston, South Carolina.

Measurables: 6'6", 215 lbs, 6'10€ wingspan.

2019-20 Season Statistics: 23.0 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 0.9 APG, 1.4 SPG, 0.9 BPG, 1.7 TOPG (14 games played, 35.7 minutes a contest) €“ 51.2% FG, 82.5% FT, 52.2% 3P

Compared to a lot of the players discussed in the Sacramento Kings range of the 2020 NBA Draft, Vanderbilt forward Aaron Nesmith is exceptionally easy to understand on the basketball court; he's a shooter, and a damn promising one at that. Under first year head coach Jerry Stackhouse, Vanderbilt made it a priority to spring Nesmith for shots, and he had an incredible hot streak to begin his sophomore season. Nesmith torched through the team's non-conference schedule, with insane efficiency off-the-catch, off-of-screens, and off movement - if he got the shot off, he buried it most of the time. In Vanderbilt's first SEC Conference contest against Auburn, while being guarded by fellow 2020 draftee/defensive titan Isaac Okoro, Nesmith finished with 18 points, sank 4 threes, and nearly brought the Commodores back from a big deficit.

 

Unfortunately, Nesmith's season ended with that bang - he'd suffered a stress fracture in his right foot during the Auburn contest, and would miss the rest of the season. His incredible mark of 60 made threes on 52.2% deep shooting would stand unchallenged by the SEC Conference schedule, and the Commodores would go just 3-15 without him in the lineup. Nesmith's sharpshooting value may be obvious, but as draft season approaches, his shortened season and lack of multiple battles against Conference competition leaves a ton of questions unanswered for armchair scouts and NBA teams.

Nesmith is a damn excellent shooting prospect, and his ability off the catch and off of slight movement (including one or two dribbles) will give him undeniable gravity at the next level. He flies around the court, reads what his defender is giving him, takes advantage, and gets shots. Upside beyond his shooting is a question mark, but the value in his shot is clear, as long as his future team is ready to run the actions needed to help carve him space. Whatever else, he will demand respect from defenses through his ceaseless movement, sheer confidence, and toughness (look at him trucking a dude on his way to a three).

 

The question of just how good a shooting prospect Nesmith is is very much up in the air. His sophomore season clip of 52.2% from deep is an absolutely unsustainable mark, especially since Nesmith only played one SEC game before his injury. Compare Nesmith's shooting stats between his two seasons.

Aaron Nesmith Stat Comparison

If Nesmith had finished his sophomore campaign, a regression to some sort of mean would have occurred. There is no doubt that his insane half-season at Vanderbilt this year has clouded his actual shooting ceiling, to the point where it may get him overdrafted and overly raise expectations. His shooting ability is a Schrödinger's cat - unknowingly insane or slightly-above-average - and prognosticators are left to estimate how elite this maybe-elite shooter really is. Honestly, it's unfair to Nesmith that he caught the eye of a fanbase that rosters Buddy Hield (and seems in great favor of sending him on his merry way, as if a top 3 shooter in the NBA is easy to replace), because Aaron Nesmith is almost certainly NOT Buddy Hield 2.0. Banking on a player reaching his top-end outcome is a good way to be disappointed. (...what? Ignore the man behind the curtain who whispers that Isaac Okoro is the second coming of Andre Iguodala - there's no hypocrisy to see here!)

It's key that Nesmith's future team properly utilizes him at the next level. Take the Duncan Robinson route - instruct motion, use screens and pindowns to death, limit his dribbling, and give him quick outlets if the shot isn't there. Jerry Stackhouse made a real commitment to getting Nesmith the sets he needed to get open shots, and it worked excellently - but will his future team be as dedicated? If the Kings select Nesmith, fans should pray that Walton doesn't rehash his approach for Hield and ask Nesmith to handle the ball and serve in a secondary playmaker role. His first, second, and third function on offense should be just like this.

If there's a shot in his arsenal I worry about, it's his shooting off the bounce - he's not so quick or crafty that I think he'll have a guaranteed go-to shot with the ball in his hands without some cleared space. He flashed some solid shooting off of one or two quick dribbles this year, so perhaps this improvement would have been proven with a longer season... but this is certainly a swing skill for Nesmith if he wants to offer any self creation ability.

While he's not afraid of contact when he drives into the paint, Nesmith has major issues when he does get to the basket; he shot just 55.8% at the rim, per Hoop-Math.com, emphasizing his lack of touch, explosiveness, and quick first step. For comparison, Saddiq Bey shot 62.9% at the basket, Isaac Okoro shot 67.8%, and Devin Vassell shot 69.4%. Nesmith has a nice Eurostep that he busts out every now and again, but he is not a guy who can power through the lane with force and explosiveness, even when it's a relatively clean lane. He just doesn't have the pop, and unless his touch jumps and finishing skill improves, he won't be a big threat on overplays. Check out the clip below from the Auburn contest - it's fair to wonder how much his newly injured foot hampers him here, but watch where he launches (off his non-injured left foot) and how high he gets.

Nesmith's assist numbers were very poor this season considering his usage rate, with just 13 assists in his 14 game season. He clearly needs to improve that mark if he wants to earn real minutes at the next level, especially if he gets drafted to a team that, cough, already has enough players without real passing instincts. But to give Nesmith credit, this seems an issue he's aware of; in an excellent interview with ESPN's Mike Schmitz, Nesmith was quick to point out reads he missed across multiple plays. While I don't agree with all of Schmitz' takes on Nesmith's skills, I highly recommend this interview; Nesmith comes off as a very aware player who eagerly watches film, both to improve his game and see how elite shooters improve and function. There's certainly hope that that dedication will lead to him seeing more open reads.

On the defensive end, Nesmith is very much a mixed bag. To his credit, he clearly bought into what Jerry Stackhouse was preaching, and went at his assignments with gusto on most occasions. His Go Go Gadget arms mean everything to his defensive upside, because although he's willing to muscle up to his assignments, he doesn't yet have the immediate defensive instincts of some of the other forwards in the class, like Isaac Okoro, Patrick Williams, Saddiq Bey, or Josh Green. He's often caught flat footed or too close to his assignment, and because he lacks the ability to quickly flip his hips or shuffle his feet, he can quickly find himself in his opponent's dust.

Instincts can improve, and as his interview with Schmitz showed, he's clearly willing to put in the film study needed to improve on the defensive end - but instincts are not his biggest issue. While solidly quick on the college floor, Nesmith will be at an athletic disadvantage against a decent chunk of NBA players, unless he's coming in as a super sixth man. He does not have the explosiveness, either vertically or on the ground, to project as a real difference maker on defense. He and the rest of the Vanderbilt roster clearly struggled to adjust to and implement Jerry Stackhouse's defensive gameplan, and through many of Nesmith's contests there was a clear lack of communication. This has to change at the next level, because if he loses his man, he won't have a great chance of recovery. But to give him credit€¦ whatever Nesmith becomes defensively at the next level, it won't be from lack of effort.

Nesmith has been hailed as a 3-and-D prospect by both professional and armchair scouts, a label I do not agree with. Certainly the 3 part of his game exists, but expecting above-average two-way ability is overhyping Nesmith's defensive upside. Given time, experience, and a coach who makes him communicate on defense, he could certainly become a neutral NBA defender. But that isn't the outcome most expect when they hear 3-and-D, a label that we all (myself included) apply to way too many prospects. If a team feels comfortable with his value as a shooter and is fine with an strong-effort, acceptable defender, then his selection in the teens is understandable; but Nesmith does not have the physical tools to become a Klay Thompson or Mikal Bridges level defensive player, and expecting as much will likely lead to disappointment at his draft slot.

Much like with Saddiq Bey, I believe the idea of who Aaron Nesmith is on the basketball court has exceeded who Aaron Nesmith actually is. There's no doubt that Nesmith will shoot the ball at the next level and provide strong gravity, but his 14 game nuclear stretch has undeniably tainted expectations. The rest of his game stands up with a genuinely large number of swing skills - passing instincts, touch at the rim, and defensive awareness. In the right situation, under a coach who is on board with taking the patient approach, Nesmith seems a smart guy to bet on. He appears to be a dedicated player aware of the practice and film time needed to improve his all-around game. But that all-around ceiling is lower than many of the players discussed in the Kings draft range, and if fans expect him to replace either of the Kings deadeye shooters, it will be some time before we know if he can live up to those expectations.

Will Aaron Nesmith be the most talented player available when the Kings draft? In my opinion, no. Even if the Kings do move on from one of Buddy Hield or Bogdan Bogdanovic this season, I think this team requires a harder long-term reset, and I'm not so sold on his shooting skill as a gamebreaking talent needed to select him at No. 12. But if Monte McNair disagrees and feels that Aaron Nesmith is the right choice for Sacramento, it will not be hard for most Kings fans to sell themselves on his upside.

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RobHessing
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October 28, 2020 10:23 am

Thanks for the great breakdown, Bryant!

RAP87
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October 28, 2020 10:26 am

I’m certainly high on Nesmith. I believe his shooting is elite and will only improved over time. The guy is a gym rat and looks like a guy who is aware of his flaws and weaknesses. With the right coaching and development, I wouldn’t see why he could not improve in that area. But one thing is for sure that shooting will be the key to his success in the NBA and I really think that shot is legit given the SSS.

SPTSJUNKIE
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October 28, 2020 12:00 pm
Reply to  RAP87

Agree his shot is legit. He was an 82.5% FT shooter as a freshman, which is normally a better indicator of shooting ability than 3 point % alone. Combine that with his %s this season along with the types of shots he was hitting and while I think it’s an open question how great his shooting is in the NBA (is he merely very good or does he become elite), it’s hard to imagine that he isn’t at least a strong three point shooter once he adapts to the speed of the league.

Sacto_J
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October 28, 2020 10:29 am

Solid dive into his upside and downside. He seems to be pretty consistent with what you’d expect and / or want at the 12th pick; some obvious talent, some obvious holes, and a hope they can develop into something better but not a sure fire starter who can contribute meaningfully right out of the gate.
My only concern with a player like Nesmith is that Coach Stackhouse created a game plan for this kid and he delivered. Walton hasn’t proven capable of doing the same for a guy with a proven ability to make other teams pay when put in the right positions, I just don’t see Nesmith getting that benefit here at all for the first year or two. McNair is the wild card, here, but I’m skeptical until empirical evidence shows otherwise…

SPTSJUNKIE
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October 28, 2020 11:01 am
Reply to  Sacto_J

I think this is a great point out, but going back to the first part of your analysis, I also think that’s probably true with almost anyone we take at 12.

You could maybe argue that someone like Jalen Smith is a pretty simple player to use. However, I think that Nesmith, Williams, Bey, Poku, etc. are all guys who will need to be used correctly, especially early in their career.

So we need to hope that either Walton and the FO can partner to use them correctly or that changes are made to our staff to get in personnel who will. I don’t think there are many players like Halliburton who are such swiss army knives that poor coaching won’t slow down their progression.

andy_sims
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October 28, 2020 10:37 am

Really thorough breakdown which addressed my areas of ignorance about Nesmith.

I was hoping to read that he had decent-to-above-average potential in regard to defense and/or ball-handling, but what we have here sure resembles what we’ve already got in Buddy Hield. Given that Nesmith’s ridiculous percentages occurred mostly against cupcakes (with Vanderbilt only having the 70th toughest schedule, which includes all of the SEC games where he didn’t play), he just doesn’t fill a need for the Kings right now. I don’t think you can draft him with the assumption that Hield or Bobo will be moved, when his defensive upside is so limited.

Ideally, I’d like to get Okoro, but I don’t see any way that he’s around at 12. If one of the better defensive wings isn’t available, I think you have to take a hard look at a rim protector. Bagley can be a pretty good weakside help defender, but the Kings still need a legit defensive center. It’d be nice if this person also had potential to hit threes at a respectable rate.

There’s always the second round for grabbing a boom/bust type player.

Last edited 11 months ago by andy_sims
SPTSJUNKIE
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October 28, 2020 10:45 am

Great article and as you know from our Twitter discussions, I overall agree with this, even if we may disagree on whether he’s could be the right pick at 12 or not (which I think partially depends on the plan with Hield).

I think your write up covers all of the important strengths and weaknesses and I agree he’s a great shooter, solid situational driver, and average defender who needs to keep working hard and where expectations and role need to be correct. So I won’t spend 3 paragraphs discussing all the ways I 100% agree with you and think the content is amazing.

Three minor points I will make on Nesmith though:

1 – His shooting I think deserves even more credit. You rightfully call out that people think of him as a 3-D prospect, but his D is not at the level people should expect from that title. However, his shooting is also much more advanced than a traditional 3-D player. His ability to relocate, shoot of screens, handoffs, escape dribbles, etc. is pretty advanced even if his 52% was unsustainable. Compared to a player like Vassell who is a great shooter in rhythm, but who misses virtually everything when he’s not set or taking a single dribble straight towards the hoop, Nesmith is on a different level closer to a Robinson, Ryan Anderson, or Hield in terms of shooting ability (though I agree, we shouldn’t assume he’ll be that good).

2 – While he’s not a great passer and only makes basic reads, I do think his passing gets overly critiqued and context matters. Yes, he averaged a paltry 1 assist per 40 this year, which translates to the numbers you had above. That is a poor average. However, as the videos you embedded demonstrate, a lot of his role and Vandy’s offensive design this year was him moving without the ball and shooting threes with a sliver of daylight. That doesn’t really put you in a position to make a lot of passes. However, as a freshman before Stackhouse became coach, he averaged 1.9 assists per 40. That is around where guys like Klay (2.3), Booker (2.1), and Mikal Bridges (1.7) were as freshman. Now none of them are especially advanced passers, especially entering the league. But while he is not a great passer, I don’t think Nesmith is selfish or has tunnel vision.

3 – You allude to this, but I think Nesmith is also a guy who plays very hard and is willing to do the little things to win. He tries hard on defense and sprints the floor to stop the break. He not only runs around to get open, but also sets some big screens on and off ball. He crashes the glass and rebounds well for a SG. And beyond his shooting that’s why he had a +21 net rating on a team with a ~-5 net rating and a 9.7 BPM. A lot of guys who carry an offense like him tend to coast or float at times, but Nesmith gives 100% at all times. This supposedly carries over off the court where he has a reputation as having a strong work ethic too.

Overall, I think Nesmith has a lot of great tools to be a good NBA player. I think he has a perfectly acceptable ceiling for #12, although not as high as someone like Williams or Poku. And if we are keeping Hield long-term, someone like Vassell in the same prospect tier is probably a better fit because of his defensive ability. But especially if we are moving on from Hield, Nesmith is an advanced shooter without a major liability in his game, even if he’s mostly average elsewhere.

I think in some ways fans might be overly negative on Nesmith because of how Walton used Buddy last year and some of the friction he’s had with management / coaching. However, I think if at #12, we get a player who is sort of a taller, longer version of Buddy who is 8 years younger, 1/6th the price, and very team oriented – that would be a win.

Last edited 11 months ago by SPTSJUNKIE
andy_sims
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October 28, 2020 10:57 am
Reply to  SPTSJUNKIE

Nesmith is only one-sixth the price if you can move Hield for decent return. Having both on the roster feel less like a luxury, and more like a redundancy in the defensive liability department.

Hield also works hard; his work ethic is as rigorous as it gets, but it hasn’t turned him into even an average defender. Obviously, you like a guy with a great motor, but there’s got to be a reasonable expectation that the player will become an asset. If Sacramento is going to draft a shooting guard, the one position where they have depth, that guy has got to have a much higher upside than Nesmith.

For what it’s worth, Hield also rebounds exceptionally well for a two-guard.

SPTSJUNKIE
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October 28, 2020 11:57 am
Reply to  andy_sims

Nesmith is only one-sixth the price if you can move Hield for decent return. Having both on the roster feel less like a luxury, and more like a redundancy in the defensive liability department.

Completely agree. I don’t think we need to have a trade completed for Hield on draft night; however, I agree that they are both primarily SGs and you wouldn’t want them both on the roster long term (said as much above).

Hield also works hard; his work ethic is as rigorous as it gets, but it hasn’t turned him into even an average defender. 

Hield is also an undersized SG and Nesmith is 6’6″ with a 6’10” wingspan, while probably being very close in terms of lateral speed / athleticism. So while I don’t think he will ever be a shutdown defender, his size and length alone give him the chance to be an average or slightly above average defender if he works hard and improves. Which is certainly a higher defensive ceiling than Buddy has at 6’4″ with a 6’8″ wingspan.

If Sacramento is going to draft a shooting guard, the one position where they have depth, that guy has got to have a much higher upside than Nesmith.

I think this goes back to this depending on what happens with Hield and Bogi, but they are both 28 years old and may cost us a combined $30M+ per season depending on Bogi’s extension, which is a lot to have invested in two players who struggle to play another position besides SG. I don’t think even a ceiling of a better defensive version of Buddy is too low for a #12 pick.

While it’s no guarantee Nesmith reaches it, I’d wager that’s a far higher achievement than most late lottery picks ever sniff. It was only two years ago that Hield was the #32 player by RPM, which is certainly flawed and imprecise, but shows how valuable he was when utilized correctly. Getting a 20/21 year old player with a similar ceiling at 12 would be a big win in my opinion.

Inthestarz
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October 28, 2020 6:06 pm
Reply to  SPTSJUNKIE

Whats the purpose to replicate Buddy instead of a hole on the roster?

Wonderchild
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October 28, 2020 10:56 am

He sounds like a Duncan Robinson or Luke Kennard. I’m not sure he contributes right away for this Kings team. I’d rather they get some playmaking or defense with this pick (or whoever they trade for this pick).

Kosta
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