In advance of the 2020 NBA Draft, Peachtree Hoops is evaluating prospects with a look at what the Atlanta Hawks might be considering from now until the selection process occurs. Dozens of prospects will be profiled in this space and, this time, we take a look at Vanderbilt wing Aaron Nesmith.
As the three-point rate in the NBA steadily rises year over year, teams are always looking for more efficient marksmen to drill shots. The “spacing and shooting” ethos has filtered down through college ball, AAU, high school ball and beyond. As a result, there has been a rise in specialized floor spacers eligible for the NBA Draft, both with players who can rise and fire off the dribble, but also the more traditional wing players mainly looking to shoot off the catch.
Aaron Nesmith is a product of the shaping of these archetypes, as a wing who shot over 57% of his field goals from beyond the arc over the past two seasons. The Vanderbilt product had his sophomore season cut short by an untimely injury — two months before the coronavirus pandemic ended the season for everyone else — but was well on his way to a prolific year in Nashville. The questions teams have to ask is whether his relatively one-dimensional game is potent enough to warrant a lottery selection.
Nesmith’s shooting stats are downright gaudy. Across his two season career, Nesmith scored 17 points on 12.5 field goal attempts per 36 minutes and drilled 48.5% of his twos, 41.0% of his threes and 82.5% of his free throw attempts. This resulted in an effective field goal percentage of 56.1% and a true shooting percentage of 59.8%.
Those numbers rose to a silly 65.9 eFG% and 68.5 TS% for this past season, but it largely came against out of conference mid-major opponents, a lower level of competition than the Commodores see in the SEC.
Nesmith truly has no weaknesses from any area of the court beyond the arc, from the top of the key around to the corners.
There is really no need to bury the lede here. Nesmith is a shooter to his core, as clearly evidenced from the shot chart above. His efficiency from long range will immediately be an asset to any NBA team. He has good wing size at 6’6” and 213 pounds and will play and defend both the 2 and 3 positions with regularity, making him a potentially positive contributor on both ends of the floor.
He is an elite three-point shooter, with an easy shooting motion and a high release. Nesmith only needs a hair of space to pull the trigger, and has plenty of confidence to continue to shoot whether his shots are falling or not. Clutch moments late in the game are when his shooting has the ability to break a team’s belief in their chances at a win.
The gravity he exerts is palpable too, as defenses scramble to close down on him when he catches the ball cleanly. Coaches will have to think twice when deploying a zone defense when Nesmith is on the floor.
At a godly 1.64 PPP — points per possession per Synergy in 83 possessions his sophomore year — Nesmith is an absolute catch-and-shoot technician.
He is extremely accomplished running off of back screens and pin downs to spot up for shots at 1.46 PPP in 54 possessions. As a projected lower volume user of the ball on the offensive end at the next level, this mastery of running around picks off the ball and selectively shooting will be key to his effectiveness going forward.
Nesmith does a good job of never rushing his form and repeating his mechanics shot after shot. Here, he displays a calm pump fake and reset dribble to get a clean shot off when a defender jumps during a closeout.
Nesmith is stronger and finishes through contact better than the reputation most spot up shooters carry. Every once in a while, he will catch the defense napping and cut to the basket for an easy bucket.
He did not attempt a ton of mid-range shots, but can certainly hit from there when left open. Additionally, Nesmith is a decent finisher at the rim, recording a 1.17 PPP from around the basket according to Synergy.
Nesmith defends with good physicality and doesn’t back down from difficult assignments. He is a tough on ball defender with impressive lateral range and active hands. He played the small forward position regularly at Vanderbilt, and thus learned how to clamp down near the elbows and in the lane in defending on the backline.
His ranginess and awareness allow him to help defend with crisp rotations and operate effectively as a true team defender. Although he wasn’t a huge disruptor in passing lanes, he does enough to make players think twice about trying a risky skip pass.
There are many subtle layers to his game beyond his stroke from deep and this well-roundedness will serve him well toward a quick transition to the professional game.
Any time Nesmith puts the ball on the floor, his lack of passing vision and awkward ball handling become rather glaring issues. While his handle is passable enough to get to the rim at times, he is generally less effective when ran off his spot and is forced to dribble.
When he tries to isolate and dribble drive, Nesmith can develop tunnel vision and force shots up in double teams or turn the ball over when trying to kick it out. His career 0.77 AST/TO ratio doesn’t flatter him, and while it should improve, his best bet is in being decisive with the ball. His decision tree sets him up to either shooting quickly or continue to move the ball around the horn as a general rule.
In the below clip, Nesmith is forced to put the ball on the floor with the shot clock running down. With better creation moves, he could put up a better attempt than the difficult shot seen here.
Additionally, Nesmith could stand to diversify his offensive game with more shooting off the dribble. He will never be someone who pounds the rock for an extended amount of time, but even a few jabs or a crossover dribble could free him up for more opportunities to score.
Nesmith is just an average (at best) dribble drive candidate: enough to make perimeter defenders respect its threat but not enough to take over a game for any length of time. While he picks and chooses his spots well, he can still fail to finish through contact in the lane.
Nesmith is generally a non-factor in the pick-and-roll game — or really playmaking in general — logging just 23 possessions as the handler or roller this year per Synergy. He is a bit too contact-shy to ask him to seal a defender and dive to the basket, and it’s certainly not within his game to handle the ball well enough to initiate the two-man set. Most of his opportunities in a these situations will rightfully result in him screening and popping to the side to create shooting space.
Beyond this, he just does not affect the game in many other ways. He has the ability to be a solid defender with his length, but didn’t prove to be an overly disruptive one in college. At under two blocks plus steals per 36 minutes, he’s not a menace in the passing lanes or at protecting the rim despite his 6’10” wingspan.
While strong enough to handle the bruising pro game, he could still improve his base in his lower body and core to prevent opponents from winning battles in the post. He can counter with his ability to get off the floor quickly and contest shots with length, but for the moment, he belongs as a perimeter defender primarily.
Nesmith played in just 14 games as a sophomore due to a stress fracture in his foot he suffered this January. While he clearly broke out in 2019-20, his performance was on a smaller than ideal sample size and against lesser talent. Draft talent evaluators will have to determine if this step forward was a bit of a mirage or truly a sign of things to come.
Possible fit with the Hawks
Atlanta finished dead-last in the NBA in three point shooting in 2019-20 at 33.3 percent, which may come as a shock to those who view the team mainly through highlight reels of deep threes. Nabbing Nesmith would surely aid in the pursuit to climb up those rankings.
Certainly, the Hawks have already used three first round picks on wing players in the past two drafts, but none were quite as accomplished a shooter as Nesmith was coming out of college. It would not be out of the realm of possibility that the Hawks would select Nesmith with the No. 6 overall pick, although it would represent a rather significant reach pick.
But if the Hawks choose to maneuver and trade down to the 10-20 range, Nesmith would definitely be in play. In an underwhelming draft heading into a season of a lot of uncertainty, Nesmith’s shooting remains one of the surest assets available this November.