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2020 NBA Draft Profile: Aaron Nesmith is the best shooter in the class

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Breaking down 2020 draft prospects during the makeshift offseason

NCAA Basketball: Vanderbilt at Arkansas Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Aaron Nesmith - Vanderbilt University

Vitals

Age: 20 (born October 16, 1999)

Height: 6-foot-6

Weight: 213 pounds

Wingspan: 6-foot-10

Per game Stats (Sophomore season)

Minutes Points Rebounds Assists Steals Blocks 2-point % 3-point % Free Throw %
35.7 23.0 4.9 0.9 1.4 0.9 50.0% 52.2% 82.5%

Strengths

Versatile shooting profile

The numbers don’t lie, and the film certainly doesn’t either. Aaron Nesmith is an absolute flamethrower of a shooter. His ability to catch and shoot from any location on the floor bends defenses to impossible angles.

Defenses gave him a ton of respect as he continued to showcase how threatening of a shooter he really was. It’s hard to fake 52% from three, even in primarily non-conference play at the college level. Nesmith gets his shots up in several different ways, from regular kick outs, to running off screens, to setting a screen in pick and pop scenarios, to occasionally creating his own looks. The Vanderbilt wing ran around like crazy and was given a green light at all times. As a result, he averaged 23 points per game as a sophomore which ranked seventh in the country.

Nesmith knows how to set himself up for shots, and it’s this skill that teams will key in on during the 2020 draft process. In the above clip, Nesmith gets free by setting the screen in a Stack pick and roll set, something the Nuggets did frequently with Malik Beasley. The difference between the two is how much stockier Nesmith is, and his screens legitimately move defenders when he leans into them. Shooters that set good screens affect offenses the second most positively of any player type behind playmakers off the dribble. Nesmith fits the bill.

In a league where floor spacing is king, Nesmith spaces the floor better than any 2020 draft prospect. In addition, he shot 82.5% from the free throw line for two straight seasons, a good statistical indicator that the three-pointer is here to stay.

Size for a shooting guard

At 6-foot-6 and over 210 pounds, Nesmith has a strong physical foundation and is rarely bullied on either side of the floor. He can struggle to fight through contact at times, but not because he isn’t strong enough. When driving to the basket, Nesmith can put his shoulder down and make plays for himself.

This also shows itself on the defensive end. Nesmith, while not a great defender, cannot be bullied by many players inside because of how stout he is. When he gets to the NBA level and is forced to switch onto bigger players, he will battle. He may not win and he may not be the perfect height to defend elite small forwards, but he has a chance to be good for stretches against that player type.

Smart Defense

Nesmith won’t have the agility to keep up with the fastest guards or the brute strength to deal with physical forwards, but every player type in between projects to be a player he can reasonably defend in his prime. This is because of good instincts, quick hands, and good positioning. He averaged 1.4 steals and 0.9 blocks per game while being productive getting his hands in passing lanes and bothering shots.

Role Player Potential

For some teams, being a role player is a weakness. For the Nuggets, they need the right mix of role players to surround Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr., and Nikola Jokic going forward. Nesmith projects to be a player with a smaller role, whether as a starter or a bench player, that is used to free up space for other players to operate. He won’t have the ball in his hands, and he won’t be asked to do much more than shoot when open and defend his position. For a team like the Nuggets with their present and future foundations basically formed, adding a player like Nesmith makes things easier for the stars.

Weaknesses

Playmaking off the dribble

As great as Nesmith is working without the basketball in his hands, he has a lot of work to do once he starts his dribble. I will get to his scoring, but his passing in particular leaves a lot to be desired. In 35.7 minutes per game, Nesmith averaged less than one assist. Part of the reason was his role as a scorer and shooter, but part of it involved bad instincts.

This is a pass every time. At the college level, Nesmith may be able to get away with taking some of those contested looks with limited rim protection; however, the NBA involves attacking defenses that feature the likes of Rudy Gobert, Joel Embiid, and other fearsome rim protectors who will block this shot every time. Nesmith must recognize the pass when it emerges and consistently execute it if he wants to play with the ball in his hands.

As for scoring, Nesmith certainly had his moments when creating shots, but often, he struggled to get by his defender going off the dribble. He isn’t the most dynamic or shifty athlete, and he is still getting used to his size in those situations.

This shot goes in, but against a smaller defender, Nesmith doesn’t get very far and settles for a tough shot. Spinning back to his dominant hand or maintaining an extra dribble could help him regain balance, but he doesn’t have many counters in his arsenal when going off the dribble. That will be a point of emphasis for sure.

Top End Athleticism

This ultimately worms its way into many of the categories that could prevent Nesmith from becoming a full fledged star. Very few players reach that level without being one of the most athletic players in a league full of athletes. It’s a miracle that Nikola Jokic is as good as he is in a league where he faces players like Embiid, Gobert, Giannis Antetkounmpo, and Anthony Davis. He has elite skills to fall back on though.

Nesmith’s shooting may afford him the same cushion (it could be that good) but it’s not the same type of bet as Jokic with elite passing, elite touch, and a big frame. Nesmith has good but not great size and strength for a shooting guard. He will have to make up for it in other areas.

High level 1-on-1 Defense

If the most desirable player in the NBA is a wing playmaker, the second most desirable player is someone who can defend that wing playmaker. Nesmith shows some chops as a defender who can switch onto other positions and play within a team concept, but in a playoff setting, teams will target him both on and off the ball at times. He will be run off screens by smaller shooters and posted up by bigger guys.

This is something that can be worked on, but only if he possesses the make-up and desire to become an elite defender. There’s enough in his basketball IQ and physical frame for him to defend 90% of the wings he faces reasonably well if that’s what he wants to do; however, shooters of his caliber don’t often invest in the defensive end. If he decides to put in the work, he could be a gem.


NCAA Basketball: Auburn at Vanderbilt Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Verdict

The Nuggets are in a position of need when it comes to shooters on the wing like Nesmith. With Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr., and Nikola Jokic presumably locked in, surrounding those players with switchable defenders that can shoot would be ideal. Nesmith’s shooting alone should be enough to interest the Nuggets long term, and his other physical traits fit well in between Murray and Porter.

The question is whether Nesmith can lock in enough defensively as the sharpshooter he is. There are players like Buddy Hield and Zach LaVine and Tim Hardaway Jr. that are threats to shoot from anywhere on the floor, but they may have trouble carving out value in a significant playoff role unless they contribute defensively. Then, there are players like Klay Thompson, Danny Green, and Wesley Matthews who have figured out how to be both threatening on offense and locked in on defense. Those kinds of players, though they may not necessarily get all of the credit, help win championships as complementary pieces.

If Nesmith were to invest himself on the defensive side of the floor, he would be a great option for a team like the Nuggets with stars already in place that simply need 3&D options around them to succeed. Nesmith setting screens and cutting for threes and layups or running the DHO game with Jokic would add an element to Denver’s relatively stagnant offense. If he could also defend some point guards, shooting guards, and small forwards along the way, the Nuggets would be in a great place.

In the end, shooting is king. If the Nuggets want to invest in a shooter, look no further than Nesmith. He’s the top shooter in the class and will win games for teams with his three ball no matter what.