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NCAA Basketball: Southern Methodist at Vanderbilt

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Draft Radar Part Eight: Aaron Nesmith

Analyzing the game and fit of the Vanderbilt product.

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

For better or worse, it seems like basketball is edging closer to a return. While it remains to be seen whether or not the Minnesota Timberwolves will be a part of the league’s “return to play” plan, there continues to be a growing probability that we will get to smell the sweet aroma of playoff hoops very soon.

Again, while all of that is appealing, it’s not really important for the Wolves. They have no chance to make the postseason, and still need to add and improve in multiple areas if they’re to ever get an invite to the playoff party again. That’s where the draft comes in, which should be the number one priority in building this squad.

As of now, basketball and the world remain at a standstill, meaning Minnesota still holds the third-worst record in the league and could fall anywhere between the first and seventh pick. You can see those odds below. They also cradle Brooklyn’s first pick, which is currently at #16.

With that in mind, there is never a good time to stop analyzing prospects. In the eighth edition of Canis Hoopus’ Draft Radar, it’s Vanderbilt wing Aaron Nesmith who gets shoved under the microscope.

Profile

Team: Vanderbilt
Draft Age: 20
Position: Small Forward/Shooting Guard
Height: 6’6”
Wingspan: 6’10”
Weight: 215 pounds

Statistics

Per Game: 35.7 minutes, 23.0 points, 4.9 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.9 blocks, 1.7 turnovers, 51.2% FG, 52.2% 3PT, 82.5% FT

Advanced: 68.5 TS%, 65.9 EFG%, 26.3% Usage Rate, .208 WS/40, 9.7 BPM, +4.7 PIPM

Overview

Aaron Nesmith’s sophomore season at Vanderbilt was reduced to just 14 games due to a stress fracture in the foot, but the 20-year-old made waves as a deadly-accurate sharpshooting wing. When scouring mock drafts, you can find Nesmith going anywhere from the 10th pick to the late first round. In Minnesota’s case, he would be on the radar at pick 16.

Strengths

  • 3-Point Shooting

Not only does Aaron Nesmith have the potential to last a long time in the Association with his sizzling shooting stroke, but he also possesses the capability to stroll into the league as a high-quality shooter from day one.

In virtually every aspect, shooting from distance seems like throwing a rock in the ocean for the former Commodore, and his Synergy Sports points per possession (PPP) numbers back that up. On all offensive possessions that ended in a field goal attempt (56.1 percent of which came from behind the arc), he registered 1.24 PPP, ranking in the 99th percentile nationwide.

Pure spot-up catch-and-shoot scenarios will be where Nesmith butters his bread in the big leagues, just as it was at Vanderbilt. He shot 48.5 percent on spot-ups, which grades out to 1.22 PPP and ranks him in the 95th percentile. His impact goes far beyond just standstill shooting, though.

It’s easy to see the shooting comparisons he has drawn to snipers like Klay Thompson and Buddy Hield when you witness Nesmith working off the ball to get himself a sliver of space. He uses screens — either set by himself to disorient the defensive shell or by others to free him of his man — to bend defenses to his will, and get his feet and body squared flawlessly.

Here is a perfect encapsulation of his multifaceted off-ball talent. Nesmith (#24) starts on the strong side, feinting a screen for the baseline cutter to get his direct opponent focusing somewhere else for a moment (that split second is all he needs) and sprints out to get a head start. His man, flailing to catch up, tries to cheat and beat Nesmith to the right slot, but Nesmith reads his cheating opponent’s tactic and intelligently flares out to the corner for the open triple.

His impact as a shooter in hand-off situations jumps off the screen. Nesmith isn’t overwhelmingly quick or bursty, but he does manipulate defenders well off the ball. He stays low and as close to the passer as possible when he takes the ball in the hand-off action, which gives him the microscopic amount of room he needs to get his shot off.

The mechanical aspect of Nesmith’s jump shot back up his claim as an elite shooter. He keeps his feet square to the rim, gets the ball quickly into and out of his shot pocket, finishes with a tucked-in elbow and holds his follow through. There is some slight variation as he ventures into pull-up and off-dribble shooting, but the results are still encouraging enough to suggest he won’t be limited as a shooter in any way.

Of course, his scorching hot 52.2 percent clip from deep is extremely unsustainable at the next level, especially since he hardly faced any other high-major schools and sustained an injury before regression to the mean had a chance to kick in. Still, expect Nesmith to slot into any NBA team as a versatile and effective shooter. That’s a premium skill to boast in today’s basketball landscape.

Swing Factor

  • Slashing and Cutting

We know Nesmith already has one extremely translatable skill, but whether or not he can expand his game and get more points in other ways might decide where his ceiling is capped. The 6’6” wing has good size and a decent first step, which is amplified when he attacks the hard closeouts from defenders (which he forces thanks to his silky shooting touch).

According to Basketball Index’s player gravity data, Nesmith ranked in the 98th percentile from behind the 3-point arc. Essentially, that means defenders guarded him as a 3-point shooter closer than 98 percent of the nation’s collegiate players. That extreme gravity and ability to bend the defense makes life a lot easier for Nesmith, who struggles as a ball-handler and space creator.

In this example, the game has just started and Nesmith is yet to take or make a triple. Nonetheless, defenders know how dangerous he can be from beyond the arc and closeout with reckless abandon. After that, it’s a walk in the park for Nesmith to round the defender and get to the cup.

While Nesmith makes attacking closeouts and getting a step on his man look effortless, he still struggles to finish at the rim, and the rest of his slashing game doesn’t come easily, either. He lacks the burst, ball-handling and wiggle to get separation from his man, which consistently plagues him.

Even with help from a screener in pick-and-roll, he struggles mightily. Albeit on extremely low-volume (16 possessions), Nesmith ranked in the 6th percentile as a pick-and-roll scorer, scoring just 6 points overall. Small sample sizes should be taken with a grain of salt, but it’s obvious when watching film that he isn’t close to the standard needed to be a reliable pick-and-roll initiator at the next level.

Look how easily he is pushed east-west when he is trying to get downhill in a north-south direction. This forces him away from the rim and into shooting an off-kilter floater that eventually gets swatted.

As a cutter, Nesmith doesn’t inspire much confidence, either. He is an awesome off-ball mover for long-range jumpers, but very rarely finds himself cutting toward the rim. According to Synergy, he had a measly 5 cutting possessions that ended in a field goal attempt.

The reason this subheading was ‘Swing Factor’ and not the usual ‘Buy Stock’ is because it’s hard to see Nesmith ever becoming a plus player as a slasher or cutter. If he can, it will dramatically increase his potential, but don’t bet on it.

Weaknesses

  • Everything Else

It seems like a harsh blanket statement, but there just isn’t any area outside of shooting that makes Aaron Nesmith look the part of an actual NBA player. His aforementioned slashing and cutting ability is iffy, but there are a few other areas that stand out like a sore thumb.

Sticking with his offense, he is a well below-average playmaker for a player who enjoyed a fairly high usage rate. Perhaps head coach Jerry Stackhouse implored Nesmith, who was far and away his best scorer, to focus on getting buckets, but it’s still disconcerting to see a high-usage wing averaging less than an assist per game.

Among all forwards drafted to the NBA since 2011, Nesmith’s sophomore season assist percentage (6.9%) rank in the 14th percentile, yet his turnover percentage (9.3%) ranks in the 91st percentile, per NBA Draft Comp. He will likely be deployed as a pure shooter at the next level, so Nesmith’s underwhelming facilitating ability probably won’t hinder him too much, but it’s still something to keep in mind when a team considers drafting him.

While the playmaking can be hidden when he makes the leap to the big leagues, no team will be able to hide Nesmith effectively enough on the defensive end. At 6’6” with a 6’10” wingspan and decent enough weight for a wing, the tools are there. However, the IQ, technique and sheer want-to leave a lot to be desired. Going by Sam Vecenie’s latest mock draft at The Athletic, no first round selection has a defensive box plus/minus or defensive player impact plus/minus worse than Nesmith’s. It’s a disaster everywhere, but his positioning and stance are the first things that really stand out.

Here, you can see how high he is in his stance, as well as how out of position he is on a simple catch from fellow draft prospect Isaac Okoro. As a reward for Nesmith’s lackadaisical defense, Okoro gets a runway to the rim and Nesmith’s big man gets bodied on a huge dunk. This kind of positional unsoundness is a common occurrence.

When he isn’t exhibiting his poor stance and positioning or his slow feet and hip movement on the ball, you can find Nesmith getting destroyed in multiple ways as an off-ball defender. He is a master of ball-watching and gifting easy points like this.

Or struggling to fight through off-ball screens like this.

And, not to pile on, but Nesmith closing out to a shooter will make many a coach grey in the hair. He isn’t fast enough to get back to shooters quickly enough, especially after tagging the roller in PnR action, and even when he does, his technique is abhorrent.

Here, he managed to get back to the shooter in a fairly timely manner, but he completely breaks down once he gets there. For some befuddling reason, he closes out extremely wide, which means he ends up having no impact on the shot whatsoever. If Nesmith attempts close outs like this in the NBA, he will struggle to get his bum off the bench.

If Nesmith can’t enhance his ability to make plays for others, score around the rim, or play effective defense, it’s hard to imagine him ever becoming more than just a one-dimensional shooter.

Fit With Minnesota

On a Timberwolves team that has attempted the third-most 3-pointers in the NBA this season, it’s easy to envision a shooter of Nesmith’s ilk slotting in seamlessly. If he did end up in the Twin Cities, they would ideally snag him with the Brooklyn pick and find a shooting role for him off the bench. However, if they are looking for more than that, Nesmith simply isn’t their guy.

His defensive warts would only magnify an already glaring flaw for the team and he adds no potential as a secondary initiator to help D’Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley and Karl-Anthony Towns. He is a safe pick because high-volume, high-efficiency shooters are immensely translatable, but there seems to be a clear cap on his potential. As a perennial cellar dweller, it seems likely Minnesota is better off swinging for the fences on a higher ceiling type player.