Recapping the Impressive Rookie Seasons of Nesmith, Pritchard

Marc D'Amico
Team Reporter and Analyst

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The Celtics hit a pair of home runs during the first round of the 2020 NBA Draft. That much is evident following the rookie seasons of Aaron Nesmith and Payton Pritchard.

Boston’s decisions to select Nesmith 14th overall and Pritchard 26th overall has added significant young talent to the franchise’s pipeline with two impact players who look like they could far outperform their draft slots. Each youngster played a significant role as a rookie and moved Boston’s needly in the right direction.

They did so by putting together outstanding stretches of play during their rookie seasons while impressing those around them with their professionalism and maturity. As former Celtics head coach and current president of basketball operations Brad Stevens said back in late-April, “Both of them are well beyond their years at their focus, attention to detail and readiness.”

Neither do Celtics fans after watching these two rookies play throughout their challenging first season as pros.

Don’t mind the modest raw numbers when it comes to Nesmith and Pritchard. Nesmith averaged 4.7 points per game and 2.8 rebounds per game, while Pritchard averaged 7.7 PPG, 2.4 RPG and 1.8 APG. What matters more than those numbers is the potential that shined through their shooting numbers and best stretches of the season.

Nesmith lived up to his self-proclaimed status as “an absolute sniper” over his final 13 appearances of the regular season, when he took firm hold of a spot in the rotation and was oftentimes Boston’s first reserve off the bench. During that stretch, he shot a sizzling 51.9 percent from the field, 44.4 percent from 3-point range and 91.7 percent from the free-throw line, all while averaging 15.5 points and 8.4 rebounds per 36 minutes.

That stretch of play secured Nesmith a top rotational spot for the postseason, during which he ranked eighth on the team in minutes per game. It also opened the eyes of those around him with regard to the impact he can make on the court, despite being only 21 years old.

Stevens reiterated in early-May that Nesmith is “on the upper end” of NBA players when it comes to his work ethic and effort level on the court. Nesmith’s two All-Star teammates echoed similar sentiments just days earlier.

“Whether it's two minutes or 15, Aaron has played with the same level of passion all year,” Jaylen Brown said of Nesmith back on April 28, after Nesmith tallied 15 points and nine rebounds off the bench against Charlotte. “So it's kudos to him because that's hard to do. Especially coming out of college, playing a lot. Now you're coming here, you're not playing as much, there's guys in front of you. It's not as easy as it seems. But I think he's handled it as good as anybody that I've seen.”

That very same night, Jayson Tatum called Nesmith’s effort level “incredible” before adding, “Aaron’s a guy who’s literally going to give his body up on every possession and run through a wall. He plays as hard as he can for as long as he’s out there, and it doesn’t go unnoticed.”

Neither did Pritchard’s shooting, which was outstanding from start to finish throughout his first season.

Pritchard finished the year with shooting splits of 44.0 percent from the field, 41.1 percent from 3-point range and 88.9 percent from the free-throw line. His 102 made 3-pointers fell just three shy of tying Jayson Tatum’s rookie franchise record for most in a season. Pritchard nearly tied Tatum’s record despite playing some 1000 fewer minutes during his rookie season than Tatum did during his.

Pritchard wasn’t a one-trick pony from long-distance, either. He showcased an ability to make 3-pointers in a variety of ways, from a variety of locations.

On the season, Pritchard shot 45.5 percent from the left corner, 40.4 percent from above the break, and 47.1 percent from the right corner. He shot 46.7 percent on catch-and-shoot triples, and he ranked fifth on the team – behind four starters, including three current or former All-Stars – in made pull-up 3s with 25 on the season.

Oh, and let’s not forget the fact that he oftentimes took a page out of Stephen Curry’s and Damian Lillard’s books by regularly shooting and connecting on shots from 25-plus feet. Pritchard shot 41.3 percent on such attempts as a rookie, which finished just behind Curry (42.7 percent) and Lillard (41.4 percent), and which also placed him in the top 16 of the entire league among players who attempted at least 150 such shots.

Celtics.com asked him about the development of his shot from 25-plus feet, and Pritchard confidently responded, “I think I had that before I came to the Celtics, so I think I had that ability to shoot from deep.”

He sure did, as did Nesmith. And they both knew it.

They are two players who can shoot it at a high clip from deep, and they’re also both hard workers who are intelligent basketball players. As rookies, they both played well beyond their years during what may have been the most challenging rookie season in the history of the league.

If Nesmith and Pritchard looked like home runs throughout that chaotic 2020-21 season, just imagine what they’ll look like under normal circumstances next season.