“Situational Analysis” is a series of articles that seeks to examine the circumstances that most often influence an NBA prospect’s success. Each player will be scored on a scale from 1-10 in four different categories: NBA-specific skill(s), fatal flaw(s), collegiate/overseas/pre-NBA environment, and ideal NBA ecosystem.
Aaron Nesmith is a 21-year-old wing from Charleston, South Carolina, who averaged 23 points and 5 rebounds in his sophomore season for the Vanderbilt Commodores. He is expected to be selected in the middle of Round 1 in the upcoming NBA Draft. NBADraft.net currently has him projected at No. 13.
It’s not so much that Aaron Nesmith can shoot the ball pretty well. It’s more like we’re probably talking about the best shooter available in this year’s draft.
Before a foot injury prematurely ended his sophomore season – which would have ended prematurely anyway, but I digress – Nesmith was ripping nets from beyond the arc. He sunk more than 52% of his 3-point attempts on the season on an incredible volume of attempts (8.2). He has phenomenal range on his jumper and carries himself as the type of player who considers himself open as soon as he crosses half court.
With Nesmith, Vanderbilt posted a somewhat surprising 8-6 mark behind his red-hot shooting. Without Nesmith, Vandy finished 3-15. Yeesh.
At 6-6 with a 6-10 wingspan and a high release point, Nesmith can get his shot off against virtually any defender. Much like Klay Thompson, Duncan Robinson, or a prime Allan Houston, Nesmith never stops moving when he’s off the ball. He tirelessly runs defenses through a forest of picks until he shakes free for a split second. It takes next to no time for Nesmith to catch, gather, set, and fire.
The peak version of Nesmith is a defense-warping floor spacer whose gravity alone can create creases for a slashing teammate. If Nesmith is open, defenses will sell out to get a hand in his face.
Defensively, he possesses all the tools – length, size, maturity, and effort. Nesmith likely won’t turn into peak Kawhi Leonard or anything, but he should develop into an above-average switchable wing defender who can hold his own against anyone on the perimeter.
Nesmith’s calling card, however, will remain his jumper. If those 14 games as a sophomore are any indication, Nesmith could top out as a 20ppg scorer with a few appearances – and maybe a win – in the 3-Point Contest.
On a scale from 1-10, Nesmith’s jumper is a 9.5.
Nesmith’s reputation as a dead-eye shooter comes from an awfully small sample size.
If we look back to his decent-if-not-spectacular freshman campaign, Nesmith only knocked down 33.7% of his tries from 3 on 5.5 attempts per game. Nesmith likely won’t shoot 52% from 3 in the NBA, but in order to justify a team spending a lottery pick on him, Nesmith’s mark from behind the arc needs to be trending toward those 14 games and not what we saw in 2018-2019.
Because if Nesmith isn’t cashing 3s at a prolific clip, the rest of his floor game will likely struggle to make up the difference.
While Nesmith does show a bit of bounce when he catches a crease in the defense, nobody would build an offense around his dribble penetration. He is not a lead ball handler and he rarely looks to pass; in 46 games with the Commodores, Nesmith tallied only 58 assists. He can make the first/obvious read, but we have yet to see him make any plays beyond that.
At this stage of his development, he primarily uses his dribble to create separation for a jumper, not to split defenses. He is an exceptional shooter off the bounce, but in order for him to reach his full potential, he needs to show a willingness to dribble into traffic – something that isn’t exactly his strong suit right now.
On a scale from 1 (not a concern) to 10 (serious hindrance), Nesmith’s relatively small sample size as an elite shooter rates at an 8.
Nesmith spent his youth torching kids much older than him, but he struggled to catch much national attention out of Porter-Guard High School in South Carolina. He didn’t receive a single Division 1 scholarship offer, even though he earned South Carolina’s Gatorade Player of the Year award.
He started to turn heads in the AAU circuit, eventually bumping himself up from a 3-star recruit to a 4-star and earning an offer from Bryce Drew and Vanderbilt. Part of what attracted Nesmith to Vandy was the academics – Nesmith excelled in the classroom as a high schooler.
Nesmith was called into action a bit earlier than anticipated after eventual lottery pick Darius Garland suffered a serious knee injury in only his fifth collegiate game. Nesmith was promising, yet erratic, through much of that freshman campaign, but few expected him to become college basketball’s best shooter from that season to this most recent one.
If Brandon Ingram was the NBA’s Most Improved Player for 2019-2020, Nesmith would run away with that honor for NCAA hoops. Should Nesmith continue on this trajectory, the sky is the limit.
On a scale from 1-10, Nesmith’s pre-NBA career rates at an 8.5.
Ideal NBA Ecosystem
If Nesmith’s sophomore shooting streak proves to be legit, he will enjoy a long, lucrative NBA career on any team he chooses. He isn’t the kind of ball-dominant guard that requires a team to dictate its offensive philosophies around his attributes. He is a plug-and-play 3-and-D wing with the potential to be even more.
Between his on-and-off-court IQ, his no-maintenance playing style, and his maturity, it’s impossible to envision a team that couldn’t use Nesmith.
Where would he fit best, though?
NBADraft.net currently has him going to the New Orleans Pelicans, which makes perfect sense to me. The Pelicans need to surround Zion Williamson with high-level role players and shooters, and Nesmith would feast on open looks around Zion’s freight-train drives to the hoop.
The Sacramento Kings (picking 12th) have to figure out what to do with a disgruntled Buddy Hield, so perhaps Nesmith could help fill that shooting gap should the Kings and Hield part ways.
The most fun Nesmith landing spot is at No. 18 and Dallas. Imagine the NBA’s highest-scoring offense piloted by Luka Doncic adding another dead-eye shooter to the mix?
On a scale from 1-10, Nesmith’s situational independence rates at a 10. Every team needs shooting. But if Nesmith hopes to reach his ceiling (Klay Thompson), he needs to find a team with an established leader/distributor who loves kicking out to open shooters.