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Know The Prospect: Aaron Nesmith

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Saving the best (shooter) for last.

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

Look.

30/29/29
24/22/28
29/29/27
24/21/21
24/23/20
7/5/7
1/1/5

Those are the Knicks’ league rankings in three-pointers made and attempted as well as three-point percentage the past seven seasons. For the past five New York’s been bottom of the barrel behind the arc. The last two series of numbers, the smaller ones, were the Knicks’ rankings during Mike Woodson’s two full years at the helm. With Woodson back, this time as Tom Thibodeau’s henchman, does that mean the three-ball is back at MSG? Drafting Aaron Nesmith could suggest yes, it is.

The 6’6” South Carolina native has a 6’10” wingspan and a good frame at 213 pounds. Nesmith played two years at Vanderbilt, though his sophomore season was cut short (14 games) after an injury to his right foot. That was a shame, because Nesmith was in the midst of a breakout campaign. As a freshman he scored double-digits less than half of the time; this year he did so in every game he played. Last year he made four or more 3s only three times in 32 games; this year he did in nine of 14. Trending the other way: after dishing 3+ assists six times as a freshman, he did just once this year, when he had nearly twice as many turnovers as assists.

And yet to harp on passing when discussing Nesmith is to miss the forest for the trees. To put it anachronistically: if you agree to join Milton Berle for a nightcap, it’s not because you’re angling to see his coin collection. You’re there for something else entirely — he knows it, you know it, he knows you know it and you know he knows you know it. With Nesmith, you’re here for the long ball.

Nesmith improved his shooting inside the arc from his freshman to sophomore seasons, but the biggest advancement in his production this year came from deep, where he improved from hitting 34% on 5.5 3PA per game to 52% on 8.2. Nesmith was an equal opportunity flamethrower, draining 52% both in transition and the halfcourt. Two noteworthy trends in his second season at Vanderbilt: an ever-so-slight uptick in his percentage of looks coming at the rim or from two-point range. Diversifying his shot profile could be the difference between Nesmith being not just a great shooter, but a great scorer.

The midrange isn’t the hot spot it once was in college. Only 19% of his total field goal attempts were two-point jumpers; only 6% of the ones he made were assisted. Don’t feel too bad for him — he didn’t assist his teammates on a single one, either. Focus on the positive: imagine watching Nesmith doing this over smaller defenders all day.

With his quick release and ability to free himself to shoot with a single dribble, Nesmith could get his shot off in a phone booth if there still were phone booths.

As fast as Kira Lewis Jr. is moving with the ball, that’s how fast Nesmith is shooting it.

Even matched up against Isaac Okoro, Nesmith earns the shooter’s touch.

Nesmith is a threat off movement and catch-and-shoots. Whether working off the dribble, a pick or a screen, he’s always exerting gravity on the spacing.

Room for improvement? Finishing at the rim. Nesmith hit just 47% at the rim in non-transition.

Here he’s unable to finish over Auburn’s Austin Wiley, who at 6’11”, 260 is closer to how large many NBA bigs are than most collegians.

There are some finishing chops there.

Maybe the less he has to dribble, the better?

Nesmith is currently projected anywhere from the late lottery to the end of the first round. To be considered a steal, he needs to improve attacking the basket, at least off closeouts; the threat of his shot is such that there will be opportunities for him on simple drives for runners, floaters and pull-ups.

On the defensive side, Nesmith has the length to make an impact against smaller wings and guards. He does so here against Auburn’s 6’4” Samir Doughty.

When the spirit is willing, the flesh need not be weak. Sometimes pride goeth before the climb. Watch what Okoro does here to Nesmith:

Literally like a minute later, Nesmith found himself in the exact same position. Did he crawl into a fetal ball? He did not.

If the Knicks don’t make any trades and hold at 8 and 23, the math may work against them landing Nesmith. Nobody has him as a top-10 selection, but he may not last to 23. Imagine the impact a floor-spacer extraordinaire like Nesmith could have on Mitchell Robinson and RJ Barrett. Imagine the Knicks not being one of the league’s bottom-third teams from deep. Imagine if Nesmith’s offensive repertoire continued to develop in the pros.

Nesmith is arguably the premiere shooter in the draft. New York is arguably the league’s worst-shooting team from deep. An elite sniper who looks to be at least respectable on the defensive end could end up quite the net positive. If the Knicks land Devin Vassell, Isaac Okoro, Patrick Williams or Killian Hayes at #8, there’s reason to believe they’ll look for shooting at 23. If they land Nesmith on top of one of those four players, this could be the Knicks’ best night in a long, long time.