Everything You Need To Know About Aaron Nesmith

Aaron Nesmith is the best shooter in this draft. That skill on its own is enticing, but when combined with his length and defensive upside, Nesmith easily becomes a lottery level talent.

Every draft class has at least one player who goes later than he should have. Five to ten seasons from now, when we look back on the 2020 NBA Draft, Aaron Nesmith could easily be that player that reignites our skepticism of front office's decision making.

Aaron Nesmith is the belle of the ball of the 2020 NBA Draft class for the analytics community. Being the best shooter in this class makes him a worthy lottery pick on its own, but once you include his length and defensive upside, Nesmith may end up as one of the biggest steals of this draft.

Nesmith saw massive growth in his game in his sophomore season. He proved to be the deadliest off-ball shooter in the country, and the game, in general, seemed to slow down for him. Before his injury, Nesmith saw improvement in his defense, and his off-ball movement would make him an exhausting tag adversary.

Prospects who project as role players often have a diverse amalgam of skills. Some are adequate in several areas, while others excel in a specific area. It is typically easier to envision the latter group's immediate impact as they are easier to plug into a particular role from day one.

Nesmith's exceptional shooting will not just translate to the NBA, but will also make an immediate impact. Nesmith is the poster boy for prolific shooting as he shot 52.2% from three this season on 8.2 attempts per game. This skill helped Nesmith become one of the most efficient scorers in the country as he scored 1.24 points per possession (PPP) overall, ranked in the 99th percentile in the country, per Synergy.

At the start of his career, Nesmith will likely be used as a spot-up shooter before he finds his identity in the rotation. As a spot-up shooter, Nesmith scored 1.225 PPP (95th percentile) and 1.639 PPP (100th percentile) when he shot off the catch. His form is pristine, and his relocation ability seems second nature.

In the below clip, Nesmith shows how a subtle relocation can create an easy scoring chance out of nothing. The play starts with the opponent blitzing Vanderbilt's pick-and-roll. As the ball-handler spins out of the double team, Nesmith sees his man rotate. In his current location, Nesmith is unavailable. Recognizing this, Nesmith slides to the open spot on the elbow for the uncontested three.

While Nesmith's most significant impact comes as an off-ball shooter, his game is much more diverse than just sitting in the corner. He is a remarkable spot-up scorer, but he can also be run through screens and have plays run for him. A simple, but standard, NBA set to create space for shooters is the handoff. In these situations, Nesmith scored 1.35 PPP (96th percentile).

Here, we see a great example of Nesmith reading the situation. His defender initially avoids the down screen and stays with Nesmith. Wanting the ball, Nesmith goes to receive the handoff from his point guard. Nesmith sees that his defender is going under the makeshift screen, so he stops his momentum and pulls up from well behind the arc.

As Nesmith's shooting prowess gets recognized, defenders will go under screens less, which will require a little more work and creativity to create space during handoffs. Nesmith initially creates some confusion among the defense by setting a solid screen. As the defense switches effectively, Nesmith runs off the same screen twice to create space before receiving the handoff and draining the three.

Handoffs are incredibly effective at creating space, but many sets have the intention of creating space for shooters with off-ball screens. While the screen is an essential element, the shooter's movement and spatial awareness are vital to creating space. Players like JJ Redick and Buddy Hield are excellent examples of players who relentlessly work off-ball and have a great sense of changing pace and relocating off screens.

Most young players often require the screen to create most of the space. Nesmith, however, has a higher understanding of how he can adjust his path to create space. This season, Nesmith scored 1.463 PPP (97th percentile) when he ran off of screens.

Here, Nesmith does a great job of adjusting his route based on what his defender does. Nesmith starts by setting a down screen with the intention of curling off the floppy screen. As Nesmith gets to the screen, he sees that his defender has gone high on the screen to try and intercept Nesmith's path. Instead of fully curling to the elbow, Nesmith flattens his route to settle in the corner for the wide-open three.

Nesmith's awareness here is critical. If he had run the play verbatim, he would have just run straight into his defender. If his defender had stayed on Nesmith's hip, Nesmith would have curled up to the elbow as designed.

Another essential trait when running off screens is the willingness to run. Nesmith has this in bunches, as we can see below. Nesmith initially runs tightly off the back screen, which dislodges his defender. Nesmith flashes to the paint, but a clear opening isn't available. With his defender still attempting to recover after the back screen, Nesmith bolts back to the elbow through the elevator screen for the open three.

The final piece to Nesmith being an elite off-ball shooter is being able to run off screens and square his shoulders in mid-air. Great shooters like Redick and Klay Thompson are notorious for this. This skill eliminates gratuitous movement, speeds up the shot attempt, and doesn't allow defenders to recover as quickly.

Nesmith isn't a master of this skill yet, but he has shown significant improvement. Here, Nesmith creates space between his defender with a great change of pace move and utilization of the screen. As he runs off the screen, Nesmith's mechanics are perfect. He stays low as he comes off the screen, hard plants his right foot and then his left foot, and then squares his shoulders to the rim as he ascends in his jumper. There are no extra steps or unnecessary dipping of the ball. By staying low off the screen, he can immediately get into his jumper instead of catching and then load up his legs.

Once Nesmith fully refines this skill, he will enter that elite class of off-ball shooters. Nesmith has also proven that he is an adept shooter off the dribble. This season, Nesmith scored 0.919 PPP (78th percentile) on jump shots off the dribble.

The below clip is an excellent example of Nesmith's awareness of how to punish aggressive closeouts. As the ball rotates to Nesmith, the defender aggressively closes out on him. Nesmith jab steps to his right, forcing the defender to change his momentum and losing his balance. With a one dribble step-back to his left, Nesmith creates space for an open three.

Having this tool is vital to Nesmith's scoring versatility. It forces defenders to think about how they close out on him. If too aggressive, Nesmith can take them off the dribble; if too conservative, Nesmith can quickly shoot over them. Always keeping defenders on their toes will only help the overall offense.

Nesmith's ideal shooting form is a big reason for his shooting success off the dribble. Unfortunately, Nesmith is a very average ball-handler who doesn't create much space off the dribble and struggles to make the right decision consistently.

As far as playmaking goes, Nesmith leaves a lot to be desired. He doesn't see the floor well and frequently settles for awkward, heavily contested runners. Nesmith won't ever be a primary playmaker, and any expectation for him to do so is nonsense, but he needs to be able to make the simple passes like the one he misses in the below clip.

Nesmith initially does a great job of getting into the lane in transition. Ideally, Nesmith would see his big man in the middle of the lane and drop a simple bounce pass to him. A couple of other choices that would have kept the possession alive are a lofted pass to his teammate in the corner or just continuing his dribble back out to the perimeter. Instead, Nesmith attempts an ill-advised reverse layup that gets easily turned away.

Nesmith's failure to recognize the situation or create space on his drive is again on display here. Once Nesmith receives the handoff, he has his defender on his hip and ideally would get downhill quickly and create something. Instead, Nesmith slowly gets into the lane and just barrels into the help defender. Nesmith's teammate doesn't help with his poor spacing here at all, but he needs to do a better job of getting one of the help defenders to commit, show some wiggle once he gets in the lane, or just have the awareness to pull the ball back out and reset.

Nesmith's lack of wiggle and creativity in the lane is the biggest problem with his driving ability right now. The above clip was representative of this, but the below one shines a spotlight on it. As Nesmith dribbles off the screen, he is essentially in a one-on-one situation with the opposing big man. He should be able to use a Euro step or spin move to beat the slower defender. Instead, Nesmith jumps off the wrong foot straight into the defender's body from an absurd distance and takes a terrible shot.

Despite his inconsistencies off the dribble, Nesmith has an undeniably valuable arsenal. He is an elite shooter who can still improve, and he can use his length and surprising bounce to attack the rim when given an open lane.

While Nesmith's shooting is undeniable, the most significant question mark surrounding his game has been his defense. Nesmith's defense in his freshman season was rough, but he saw steady improvement each week before he got injured.

At 6'6 with a 6'10 wingspan, Nesmith has an excellent frame for a wing defender. The hope is he continues his development to be a multi-position defender, but he is currently a little too inconsistent as he allowed 0.991 PPP (12th percentile).

The biggest issue with Nesmith's current defense is his inconsistent on-ball effort. In the below clip, Nesmith just gets beat in a situation where he should never allow a layup. The ball-handler uses just a jab step and immediately beats Nesmith. Nesmith has slow footwork to recover and doesn't attempt to challenge the shot at the rim.

Nesmith's poor effort strikes again in the below clip. Nesmith tries to fight through a screen lazily. Once he does so, his teammate has already committed to the switch. The ball-handler makes a nice pass to the roller, but this is only doable because once Nesmith does recover, he keeps his hands down instead of using his 6'10 wingspan to disrupt the vision and passing lane.

Nesmith is too good of an athlete with too ideal of a frame to be this bad on defense. The silver lining is Nesmith showed consistent improvement on the defensive end as the year progressed. He was more consistently locked in and did a better job of using his length.

Here, Nesmith is locked in the entire time and plays perfect defense. Nesmith is in a proper, low defensive stance from the start. As his opponent drives, Nesmith nearly gets beaten. Unlike the previous clip, Nesmith moves his feet well and stays tight on his man. As his man goes up for the shot, Nesmith uses his long arms to challenge while remaining vertical and blocking the shot.

 

The night-and-day difference between this clip and the earlier one is notable. This clip against NC State is an encouraging sign for the type of defender Nesmith will be. He has the athleticism to defend most positions on the floor and is at his best when he uses his length.

The below series of clips show how influential Nesmith's length can be. He shows excellent effort and athleticism to recover and consistently disrupts what should be easy transition scores. Few players can be this disruptive with their transition defense.

Going forward, Aaron Nesmith will at least be one of the best shooters from the 2020 NBA Draft class. His shooting impact will make an impact from day one as an off-ball scorer, and if he can improve his ball-handling, his scoring impact will only grow. As a defender, Nesmith's inconsistency can be frustrating. When he is locked in, though, his length and athleticism make a notable impact. Once he receives NBA level coaching, I fully expect Nesmith to become a consistently good defender.

Aaron Nesmith's injury will likely force him to drop into the middle of the first round despite having lottery level talent. His game has flashes of Buddy Hield, Tyler Herro, and Danny Green. Nesmith won't develop into an All-NBA level wing, but he will be an elite shooter from day one with compelling defensive upside.

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