CelticsBlog film room: Aaron Nesmith’s proficiency off screens

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Vanderbilt v Arkansas
Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

A lethal threat off screens at Vanderbilt, Nesmith should create gravity and thrive off sets designed for him.

In Wednesday’s media availability, Brad Stevens again tempered expectations on Boston’s lottery pick. “Aaron Nesmith hasn’t played a 5-on-5 game since January and until his first practice,” Stevens said. “Everybody is asking me if he’s going to be in the rotation or not and he was just trying to get up and down the court.”

The #14 pick suffered a stress fracture in his right foot after playing only fourteen games of his sophomore season at Vanderbilt. Before his injury, Nesmith was the nation’s fifth leading scorer, averaging 23 points per game. It’s that talent that Danny Ainge gambled on in last month’s draft and Stevens has recognized in training camp.

“I’m not worried about his shot at all. He just needs to learn as quickly as possible,” Stevens said. “He’s a good shooter. He’s a smart kid. I think he’ll pick things up very quickly.” When he does, Nesmith could find a role as fast as he’s known to light up scoreboards.

After shooting 52.2% from 3-point range last year and 51% off screens, Aaron Nesmith will have high offensive expectations as a rookie role player. The Boston Celtics may count on him to provide 3-point shooting and floor spacing as they suddenly appear a little thin on floor spacing at the wing position.

Enter Nesmith, who was proficient not just in his efficiency as a sophomore at Vanderbilt but in how he was used. There were dozens of screening actions and a deep playbook designed around getting him open. As a result, Nesmith took a ton of threes, notching 49 shots off screens in only 14 games.

If Brad Stevens is willing to add a few wrinkles to his playbook to accommodate Nesmith in areas he’s already comfortable, the Celtics could easily find minutes for him. It’s a role that not only provides an offensive boost but pairs well with elite slashers like Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Gravity is a term that’s en vogue in basketball circles, and a sharpshooter like Nesmith darting off screens would create gravity for Tatum, Brown and all the Celtics bigs.

With a short offseason and an offense that finished the regular season 11th in half-court offensive efficiency, the Celtics are unlikely to throw out the old playbook, even with Gordon Hayward’s departure.

That suits Nesmith well. Stevens uses plenty of options for shooters within their motion, including a screen-away option that would let Nesmith read his defender for simple pop-backs:

What we’re likely to see added are wrinkles and layers added for specific role players to best maximize their time on the floor. Nesmith is a prime, unique candidate for such a designation, provided he earns his way into the rotation for meaningful minutes. He has his improvement areas, including quickness on defense and making smart decisions when he puts the ball on the floor. While tightening up those shortcomings are key to earning extended minutes, Stevens likely has some plays up his sleeve for when the time comes to give the kid some run. I, for one, am excited to see the wizardry of Stevens combine with the prowess of Nesmith’s movement shooting.