Nesmith Steps up With Core C’s Out, Delivers 23 Points vs. Magic

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Aaron Nesmith came into the NBA last season characterized as a 3-and-D wing, a label which he lived up to down the final stretch of his rookie season as he displayed lights-out shooting and non-stop hustle on the defensive end.

However, it turns out there are several other layers to his game, as well. And they are being unveiled right in front of our eyes this preseason.

On Wednesday night, the Celtics rested their core players during an exhibition match in Orlando, opening the door of opportunity for their youngsters. Nesmith stepped through that door with a game-high 23 points, a team-high four assists, three rebounds, and a steal in a 103-102 loss to a Magic team that played its full roster.

Nesmith showed what we all knew he was capable of as a 3-and-D guy, knocking down 4-of-8 from 3-point range, while also providing energetic stops on the other end. But he also showed the ability to facilitate and create buckets all over the court for himself and for his teammates.

“I was just reading the defense, being myself and relying on the things I worked on this summer,” Nesmith said of his effort after the game. “It was a different role I had to play tonight because of who was out, so just stepping up and playing that role to the best of my ability.”

Nesmith proceeded to elaborate on those things he worked on over the summer, such as “being able to put the ball on the floor, read close-outs, read second defenders, make second moves once I get past the first, and keeping my head up a little bit for open players on the passes.”

His hard work began to surface during Summer League when he led the C’s in both scoring and rebounding with 17.4 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. He shot the ball strong from beyond the arc, hitting 13-of-36 (36.1 percent) in five games. But inside the arc was where he really lit it up, shooting 22-of-34 (64.7 percent).

We saw him do the same Wednesday night with a variety of scoring methods – driving to the basket, turnaround jumpers in the paint, catch-and-shoot-3s with a hand in his face, et cetera.

Coach Ime Udoka agrees that he sees “a good amount of carryover from (Nesmith’s) Summer League. He was extremely aggressive there (in Las Vegas) and carried that into open-gym and Training Camp, and he gets an opportunity with those guys sitting out tonight and plays very well.”

Nesmith also played very well during the first preseason game against Orlando on Oct. 4, when he scored 10 points in the fourth quarter to help the C’s eke out a 98-97 win. If he keeps it up, he should be seeing significant minutes this coming season along with Boston’s core players.

“He’s a very good complementary piece,” said Udoka. “We talk of our young guys taking that leap and progression, and I think him, Romeo (Langford), Grant (Williams), and Payton (Pritchard) have all done that.

“I’m proud of the work he puts in; I see it every day. And he took advantage of it tonight. He plays very confidently and free, which is what we want him to do with those guys sitting out.”

Nesmith credits his rising confidence to his developing comfort on the court, as he’s already noticing a big difference in how much easier the NBA game is coming to him at the start of his second season.

“The game is definitely easier to read, and it’s slowing down,” he said. “And it will continue to slow down in the coming years and games.”