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Looking forward to the NBA Draft: Aaron Nesmith

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Is the sharp-shooting forward from Vanderbilt the ideal target for the 76ers?

NCAA Basketball: Southern Methodist at Vanderbilt Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Shooting — there’s no point avoiding the subject. The Sixers have a problem. Their core pieces, the starters they either drafted throughout The Process combined with the recent additions of Tobias Harris, Josh Richardson and Al Horford, do not fit, and poor shooting is the main culprit in that lack of fit. Naturally, the Sixers should be targeting sharp-shooting wings that easily slide into the lineup and alleviate those spacing issues.

And who is the best shooter in this draft? The obvious answer seems to be a 6-foot-6, 213-pound sophomore from Vanderbilt named Aaron Nesmith, who shot an absolutely ridiculous 52 percent from 3 this past season.

Of course, Nesmith only played in 14 total games, as following a close loss to Auburn, he suffered a right foot injury and sat out the rest of the season. Just last year, the Cavaliers spent the fifth overall pick in the draft on Darius Garland — a Vanderbilt player who shot 46 percent from 3, but missed most of the college season with an injury. For Cleveland this year, Garland had a lot of struggles, including a dip in his outside shooting to 35.5 percent.

With this troubling precedent set, I took to scouring through Nesmith’s film to see if he’d be an ideal pick for the Sixers with the 22nd overall pick in the draft (apologies in advance if the game clips are blurry and lagging; Vanderbilt wasn’t exactly playing in a ton of prime-time games with high quality footage).

Let’s begin!


Here is the entire statistical profile of Nesmith’s sophomore stats, courtesy of KenPom.com.

No matter how you want to frame it, Nesmith was quite simply the best shooter in college basketball during his brief run. Out of any of the consensus top-40 prospects in this draft, he has the highest true shooting percentage and the highest 3-point percentage, and was one of only a handful of prospects to shoot over 80 percent from the foul line in this abnormally terrible free throw-shooting class.

However, what might be the most promising statistic is the number of 3s he was making each game. This study done on Twitter by my fellow Northwestern undergraduate Andrew Fenichel shows how a high volume of 3-pointers made per game, not a good free throw percentage, actually has the best correlation to successful 3-point shooting in the NBA. Nesmith drained around 4.3 3s each game, an astounding number for a college player, and one that would have been second in the entire NBA this season behind only James Harden.

His form looks promising as well, as he generates good rhythm, shows no jarring elbow flare or off-hand influence and even has the optimal high-release point.

Nesmith, unlike the previously profiled Joel Ayayi, is also not limited to stationary, spot-up shooting. Vanderbilt used a variety of dynamic, moving actions to get him open from 3, and he looked comfortable in just about every one of them. Particularly, Vanderbilt made it a focus of their offense to run dribble-handoffs above the 3-point arc to get good looks for Nesmith.

What makes this even better is that Pistol, one of the most popular and effective set plays in the modern NBA, is predicated on a shooter’s ability to hit 3s after receiving a handoff from the ball handler. The Sixers can immediately use Nesmith in Pistol action, a deadly weapon for them and something opponents would have to prepare for each game.

And the list of ways in which you can employ Nesmith as a 3-point threat just keeps going, as he has shown flashes of everything, from coming off off-ball screens for 3s ...

To employing the analytically friendly shot-fake into a side-dribble 3 ...

To setting his own off-ball screens and smartly relocating to space.

He even showed a penchant for hitting the highest difficulty of shots: a handoff into a setback 3 over a tight contest from the defender.

I kept watching those clips over and over again looking for certain things to nitpick, any potential downfalls in Nesmith’s shot that could lead to inconsistencies. The only thing I have is that his release can be slow at times, which limits the total volume of 3s he can get off, and can sometimes lead to his shot getting heavily contested or blocked as it does here in the play below.

But that’s about it from a game film standpoint. He did shoot a concerning 33.7 percent from 3 during his freshman season. However, everything I’ve seen from his 2019-20 campaign screams elite-level shooter. It’s clear that college coaches viewed him in this light as well, as defenses were so focused on him that his off-ball actions often opened up wide-open layups and dunks for his teammates.

Take this play, where Nesmith wheels through from the top right wing to the left corner. His defender should be watching ball and man in order to prevent a back door cut and a lob, but he’s so worried about Nesmith’s shooting that he can’t look away, and Vanderbilt gets an easy dunk.

Or take this play, as the defender should drop back toward the basket as Nesmith sets the back screen in order to cover for his trailing teammate, but instead he has his eyes glued to Nesmith, knowing that he’s popping out to the top of the key for a 3-point opportunity. Again, the result is a Vanderbilt basket.

Unfortunately, as with all prospects, we do have to get into the negatives. The reason you’ve seen only clips of Nesmith shooting 3s is because he doesn't do much else on the court. In fact, according to KenPom.com, he was only fourth on his own team in percentage of possessions used.

The few times he was given an opportunity to create for himself, problems quickly arose. Nesmith is not an elite athlete, as he lacks lateral burst and quickness, and while his vertical leaping ability isn’t terrible, it’s not a plus on his resume. Both of those things are apparent on this play, as Nesmith gets swallowed up and can’t finish at the rim.

In this next clip, Nesmith attempts a step-through to split the defenders but is too slow and not coordinated enough to do it; he gets bailed out by an iffy tripping foul call.

But it’s not like Nesmith is completely inept in this area of the game. He shot a more than acceptable 55.7 percent at the rim according to hoop-math.com, and is still mobile and tall enough that, against the right matchups, he can make moves and finish with skill and strength.

The bigger problem is that he doesn’t have the handles or shiftiness to even get to the paint in the first place. Only 25.4 percent of his shots this season came at the rim, and even though he is still a very efficient scorer due to his shooting prowess, being able to get to the rim more consistently would increase that efficiency even further.

It was even more difficult to find mid-range shots in Nesmith’s game film, as two-point jumpers only comprised 18.5 percent of his total shot profile, and he shot a mediocre 42.1 percent on those shots. I struggled to find any pull-up jumpers in the mid-range, and the two floaters I found gave me mixed results.

He makes both of them, but I saw them more as good fortune than skill. On the first one, he takes off too far for my liking, making it a high-difficulty floater. On the second. he is unable to separate in any type of way, leading to a weird mid-air contortion that somehow results in two points.

But maybe Nesmith doesn’t need to be good at the previously mentioned things. His future in the NBA lies in being the prototypical 3-and-D role player, and thus, we need to know more about his defense.

The thing I liked best about Nesmith on that side of floor was simply how much he cares. He’s always hustling to make rotations, pointing out and communicating them with his teammates and just showing that he’s engaged on that end of the floor.

Even if it’s subtle, it’s clear that Nesmith buys in, which is the key towards surviving the complicated puzzle that is playing defense in the NBA. But on the other hand, there were plenty of instances where Nesmith got exposed, particularly due to poor foot speed.

As you can see in those above plays, he is susceptible to being blown by when leaning too far to one side. Nesmith also lacks the proper flexibility in his hips to maneuver around off-ball screens and stay attached to cutters, and has terrible technique on his close-outs, taking exaggerated hops rather than chopping his feet.

Yet overall, I don’t think he’ll be a liability on the next level. He won’t be picked on relentlessly due to his strong frame, and he has the desire to compete on that end of the floor. Under the tutelage of professional coaches, he can learn the finer nuances of defense, and be a switchable wing on the perimeter that can be trusted in crucial situations.

In conclusion, I came out higher on Nesmith than I was before my deep dive into his play. He’s not going to be an All-Star in this league unless he somehow starts shooting 60 percent from 3 on high volume, as he can’t really create shots for himself or others, averaging a putrid 6.9% assist rate in his fourteen games this past season. But the Sixers don’t need an All-Star. They need someone who can fit, and Nesmith, with his lights-out shooting and potential to be an average-to-good defender at the next level makes him a great option for the Sixers with the 22nd pick in this year’s draft, whenever that may be.