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2020 NBA Draft: Aaron Nesmith Scouting Report

Aaron breaks down Nesmith’s game and makes a case for the Magic drafting the wing with the smooth jumper.

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

In these frustratingly uncertain of times, writing about something like basketball seems pretty trivial. We all have more questions than there seems to be answers for: questions related to health concerns, distancing concerns, political concerns, economic concerns - you name it. Questions about sports (as in “if/when they are even coming back in the summer, fall, or beyond) in our society are pretty low on the list of important or prioritized concerns at the moment.

But this is a professional basketball blog; I’m not here (because I’m nowhere near equipped nor qualified) to even attempt to try and tackle the unprecedented problems the world currently faces. We’re here for you at Orlando Pinstriped Post to try and provide a short-term getaway/distraction in any way that we can.

For me, that’s talking the NBA Draft. It goes without saying that the process leading up to the NBA Draft this year will be unlike any other players, agents, scouts, and league executives have ever experienced. I would assume the league passes on holding a pre-draft combine (*Editor’s note: The NBA officially announced on Thursday that they are postponing the NBA Draft Lottery and the NBA Draft combine). With travel basically coming to a halt, teams likely won’t have the benefit of bringing prospects in for workouts/interviews. Advanced scouting (through March) and film-study appear to be avenues teams will have to heavily rely upon with this draft.

I mean, at this point, we don’t even know if there will be an NBA Draft in June (could it possibly be postponed, re-scheduled?). There is still so much to be determined regarding the immediate future of the NBA (finishing this season or not, possible abbreviated playoffs, etc.). Without the information or guidance to answer many of these basketball related questions, I’m going to push forward with scouting reports of players in this class that could be available when the Magic pick in the first round of the ‘20 NBA Draft (although, we don’t know at this time when that pick will be made - I assume somewhere in the 15-16 range).

I will be putting these reports together over the next couple of months (and possibly longer), which include loose NBA comparisons for each prospect, film observations, talking points, a case for the Magic needing/drafting the prospect, and more. Up next in the series is an intriguing prospect who can really shoot the basketball, Vanderbilt swingman Aaron Nesmith.

Aaron Nesmith
Height 6-6
Weight 215 lbs.
Wingspan 6-10

NBA Comparisons

Probably won’t happen comparisons: Khris Middleton, Gordon Hayward (Nesmith probably has less ball-handling ability at this point)
Possibly could happen comparisons: Danny Green (although, I’m not sure Nesmith’s defensive upside will be as high as Green’s), Reggie Bullock

Eye in the sky

-Constantly moving without the basketball, understands spacing and floor-balance
-Uses screens very well, has to be one of the best (if not the best) catch-and-shoot prospects in this class
-Tremendous balance/quiet lower-half on his jump-shot, is always squared to the basket and ready to shoot.
-The release of his shot is a tad slow for me, a bit methodical
-Utilizes a series of pump-fakes when defenders close hard, has the one-dribble sidestep down
-Ultimate floor-spacer in the half-court, not an eye-popping athlete when playing in transition
-Very competitive offensive player, range extends well-beyond the college three-point line
-Likes to punish smaller defenders in the post, utilizing turn-around jumper
-Seemed to have a little tunnel-vision, definitely forced some shots (that mostly went in, to be fair) when the better play may have been to find an open man

Best films of the season
November 11th at Richmond: 34 points (12-18 FGA, 7-12 3PTA), 7 rebounds
December 21st vs. UNC-Wilmington: 34 points (9-16 FGA, 7-10 3PTA), 6 rebounds
January 4th vs. SMU: 29 points (8-13 3PTA)

Video credit: Tremendous Upside

Resume & By the numbers

  • Won three consecutive state titles in high school, was named the South Carolina Gatorade Player of the Year following his senior season
  • Played at Porter-Guad School in Charleston, SC, where NBA All-Star Khris Middleton starred at from 2006-2009
  • Was on pace to lead the SEC in scoring, three-point field goals, and three-point field goal percentage before suffering a season-ending foot injury in January
  • Made four or more three-point field goals in a contest in 9 of his 14 games last season
  • Scored 25 points or more in a contest in 6 of his 14 games, 30 or more points in a contest twice
  • 119 three-point field goals made in just 46 career games at the collegiate level (41% three-point shooter)

Talking Points

1) Elite shooting ability

I do have some legitimate concerns about parts of Nesmith’s game, but there’s one aspect of what he brings to the table that is unquestionably elite, and that is his ability to shoot the basketball. Nesmith possesses a complete shooting profile: he’s tremendous moving without the basketball, he effectively uses screens to free himself, he utilizes excellent balance/lower-half, and he always seems squared/ready to shoot. He was incredibly efficient in spot-up, catch-and-shoot, and off-the-bounce opportunities this past season (albeit, in a smaller sample-size than most of the other players in this class), and his one-dribble side-step leading to a three-point attempt off a pump-fake is an emerging part of his repertoire.

As far as his shot versatility, the 6-6 swing-man obviously plays to his strengths (58 percent of his career field goal attempts have been three-point attempts). For such a dead-eye shooter, I didn’t notice Nesmith forcing too many bad shots over his two seasons at Vanderbilt. The jump Nesmith made in shooting efficiency from his freshmen to sophomore season is quite significant (53.6% true shooting percentage to 68.5% this past year).

Granted, Vanderbilt had only played one Power Five school in the 14 games Nesmith participated in over the course of the ‘19-’20 season (before he went down with a season-ending foot injury). So his competition this season was a bit watered-down, and the somewhat incomplete sample-size brings some of his eye-popping efficiency into question, but it’s still pretty tough to ignore the scorching shooting numbers he posted over a half of a season.

In 2019-20, Nesmith shot 50 percent on corner three’s (13/26), 53 percent on three’s from the top of the key (10/19), and 53 percent on three’s from the left/right wings (37/70). If you include data from his freshmen season, he’s a career 45 percent shooter on corner three’s (23/51), 47 percent shooter on three’s from the top of the key (16/34), and a 38 percent shooter on three’s from the left/right wings (56/148). Nesmith shot 60.5% (23/38) on three-point attempts that came off screens and/or dribble hand-offs in ‘19-’20, and he ranked in the 97th percentile or higher (according to Synergy Sports) in the following categories: jump shooting, catch-and-shoot efficiency, shooting coming-off screen, and shooting stemming from DHO (dribble hand-off) action.

First year Vanderbilt head coach and former NBA veteran Jerry Stackhouse did an impressive job utilizing Nesmith in motion/movements sets that showcased his uncanny shooting ability.

2) Foot-injury

One thing that could potentially be a cause of concern for some NBA executives regarding Nesmith is the stress fracture in his right foot he suffered in January.

I think it’s assumed the injury is an isolated occurrence that should be well behind Nesmith by the time next season rolls around, but I’m sure a lot of teams would feel better about his foot if they were able to see the medical records for themselves.

The NBA announced this week that the Draft Lottery and the Draft Combine would be postponed for now. Many teams around the NBA requested that the league take this kind of action so they could have the adequate amount of time to talk to prospects, and do their due diligence when it comes to interviews, physical examinations, sifting through injury histories, etc.

Delaying the combine (and likely the actual NBA Draft itself) probably helps a guy like Nesmith, who not only has more time to get ready for workouts now, but can also benefit from the additional time teams now have to look into his injury (and ultimately clear him/erase the ‘red flag’ if appropriate).

3) One-trick pony?

I don’t hold a lot of reservations labeling Nesmith the best shooter in this draft class.

What I do worry about are some of his ancillary skills. In 500 minutes played this past season, Nesmith recorded 13 assists. For his career, we’re talking about a guy who dished out one assist for every 25 minutes he played at Vanderbilt. I understand that he has a scorer’s mentality, but that’s a bit alarming. He’s not going to be initiating any pick-and-roll offense at the next level; he’s not going to be initiating much of anything in any kind of half-court set. He can make the basic reads and keep the ball moving, that’s about it.

I’m not completely sold on Nesmith’s dribbling ability either. Like I’ve mentioned, he can create space and shoot it from the perimeter off one or two dribbles, no problem. But coming downhill, either in transition or in the half-court, his dribble lacks explosion.

He’s just not a very explosive athlete in general. Watching his film, I can’t help but notice how deliberate he looks moving around on the floor (almost Andrew Nicholson-like, gulp). Offensively, if there was one spot on the floor that Nesmith struggled at in the half-court, it was finishing at the rim.

I think Nesmith can be an adequate to good NBA defender. Possessing a 6-10 wingspan, he’s plenty long enough to play either the shooting guard or small forward position. Again, I’m not crazy about his athleticism or his foot speed, but I think he can be a solid team defender. Nesmith possesses a high defensive IQ. He will probably be better-suited defending smaller forwards in the NBA, rather than speedy-guards who will be more likely to beat him off the dribble.

Nesmith is going to stick in the NBA and have a successful career due to his ability to shoot the basketball. But it will be the development of a second or third skill (dribbling, passing, athleticism, defense) that will be a swing-factor for Nesmith, potentially raising his ceiling to a NBA-caliber “starter” (rather than a second unit bench scorer).

Making a case for the Magic to draft Aaron Nesmith in the ‘20 Draft

With D.J. Augustin and Michael Carter-Williams set to hit free agency this summer,
would Nesmith provide the Magic with needed depth at the point guard position?
With Evan Fournier's decision to possibly opt out of his contract and become an
unrestricted free agent this summer looming, would Nesmith provide the Magic
with needed depth at a wing position?
The Magic ranked 28th in the league in eFG% last season, 27th in scoring, 27th
in field goal percentage, 25th in three-point field goal percentage, and 24th in
Offensive Rating. Could Nesmith potentially help the Magic in any of these areas?
Does Nesmith fit the Jeff Weltman/John Hammond archetype? No
Would selecting Nesmith in the middle of the first round be considered a
BPA/value pick?

Through the three drafts that Orlando’s current executive team has been in charge (led by Jeff Weltman: President of Basketball Operations, John Hammond: General Manager), the Magic have been painstakingly predictable with the type of players they’ve targeted. Weltman and Hammond value character first and foremost. They also seem to be infatuated with wingspan/length (Isaac, Iwundu, Bamba, Frazier Jr., Okeke) and defensive positional versatility (maybe not Bamba so much, but holds true for the other guys).

I put together a Magic-specific draft checklist above, and drafting Aaron Nesmith would help Orlando address a few areas of need. First of all, the Magic will likely need to bring in a point guard (or two) in the off-season due to the fact that both of their current back-up point guards will be free agents at the conclusion of this season. The organization can address this probable need through the draft, or possibly through free agency (mid-level exception). Secondly, the Magic could find themselves a little thin on the wing if potential free agent Evan Fournier decides to opt out of the final year of his current contract.

Nesmith could provide the Magic with insurance if Fournier were to opt out of his deal. Even with Fournier, Orlando was one of the least efficient shooting teams in the NBA. The organization is starved for shooting/scoring threats who can surround Markelle Fultz, Jonathan Isaac, and Mohamed Bamba over the next half decade or so.

However, Nesmith doesn’t really fit the Weltman/Hammond model as a prospect; he doesn’t offer the organization a ton of defensive positional versatility. The organization tends to gamble on players’ potential upside, whereas Nesmith (for me) represents a prospect with a higher floor (and an already developed elite skill: shooting) than Orlando usually bets on.

If there ever was a time that Orlando’s management group opted to stray away from the prototypical prospect they seek so often, it seems like Nesmith represents an opportunity for them to do so. The only question that remains is, will he still be available by the time the Magic pick? As of May 3rd, ESPN currently ranks Nesmith as the 17th “best player available” on their board. Kevin O’Connor (The Ringer) lists the Vanderbilt wing 15th on his big board (released April 15th), and Sam Vecenie (The Athletic) has Nesmith coming off the board in the lottery (12th pick) in his latest Mock Draft (released May 1st).

At the spot where the Magic will likely be drafting from (middle of the first round), Weltman and Hammond would have to take a long look at Nesmith (if the South Carolina-native were to fall that far), considering he is widely viewed as the top shooter in this draft class (and Orlando struggles so mightily in that area). He’s not a perfect prospect; his lack of burst/explosiveness is worrisome. But this is a pick I wouldn’t overthink if I were the Magic. With their well-documented needs of more shooting/scoring on the roster, I would be running this pick to the podium faster than Usain Bolt in ‘08 (or ‘12-’16, you get the point I hope).

Aaron Goldstone has been writing for Orlando Pinstriped Post since 2017. You can follow him on Twitter at @AaronGoldstone.

You can also find his scouting reports of Kira Lewis Jr. and R.J. Hampton here.