Detroit Pistons draft preview: In an NBA dominated by 3-pointers, Vanderbilt’s Nesmith bears close inspection
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History says it’s a virtual certainty a future All-Star, perhaps even a future MVP, will be available when the Pistons go on the clock to make the seventh pick in the 2020 NBA draft.
It’s too early to judge the 2018 and ’19 drafts – though early returns suggest form will hold as young players like Tyler Herro (13th pick in 2019) and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (11th pick in ’18) already appear on an All-Star track – but go back a decade and every draft has produced players who either already are or will be multi-time All-Stars or even MVP winners who were taken with the seventh pick or beyond.
The 2017 draft has already produced All-Stars in Donovan Mitchell (13th) and Bam Adebayo (14th). Jamal Murray, a breakout star of the NBA’s Orlando bubble, was the seventh pick in 2016. Devin Booker was the 13th pick in 2015 and Nikola Jokic went 41st in 2014.
Two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo was the 15th pick in 2013 and three-time All-Star – and three-time NBA champion – Draymond Green was the 35th pick in 2012. His Golden State teammate, Klay Thompson, was the 11th pick in 2011 when two-time NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard went 15th. Paul George was the 10th pick in 2010 and two-time MVP Steph Curry was the seventh pick in 2009.
So when Dwane Casey said in early October, after months of digesting video of top prospects, he was confident the Pistons would get a foundational piece at the seventh pick, he had history – and faith in the eye of new general manager Troy Weaver – in his corner.
Leading to the Nov. 18 draft, Pistons.com will profile 12 candidates to hear their name called when the Pistons announce the pick. Next up: wing Aaron Nesmith.
FIRST-ROUND CANDIDATE: AARON NESMITH
ID CARD: 6-foot-6 wing, Vanderbilt, 21 years old
DRAFT RANGE: Ranked 13th by ESPN.com, 17th by The Athletic, 16th by SI.com
SCOUTS LOVE: There is one thing clearly to love about Nesmith and in an era where NBA teams now take nearly 40 percent of their shots from the 3-point line – 38.4 percent of all shot attempts in the 2019-20 season were 3-pointers – Nesmith is in line to hear his name called higher than draft projections might suggest. He’s an elite 3-point shooter, making 41 percent of his triple tries over two years at Vanderbilt while shooting an eyebrow-raising 58.5 percent of his shots from the arc. As a sophomore, Nesmith shot it even better, hitting a phenomenal 52 percent of his 3-point attempts on a healthy 8.2 tries a game. With a 6-foot-10 wing span, Nesmith profiles as a classic 3-and-D prospect with the potential to be an elite shooter and plus defender who can switch without fear of being overpowered by bigger wings or blown past routinely by ballhandlers. Even if Nesmith doesn’t develop skill sets outside of those areas, that’s extraordinarily valuable to front offices and coaches. Given his size and role in Vanderbilt’s offense, Nesmith didn’t stray much outside of his lane. But Vandy coach Jerry Stackhouse, whose 29.8 per-game scoring average in 2000-01 remains highest in Pistons history, suggests Nesmith has more to offer off the dribble, as well.
SCOUTS WONDER: Nesmith’s sophomore season was interrupted – and ultimately ended when the season was aborted by the COVID-19 pandemic – by a stress fracture in his right foot. Foot injuries can be problematic – consider that the Pistons signed Justin Patton, the No. 16 pick in 2017, when his career was severely disrupted by three foot surgeries over his first two seasons – but there doesn’t seem to be undue concern over Nesmith’s future. The bigger issue might be the fact that Nesmith’s 52 percent from the 3-point arc came largely in Vanderbilt’s non-conference season. Of the 14 games Nesmith played as a sophomore, only one – his last game, the SEC opener against Auburn – came against a power-five conference opponent, though it should be noted Nesmith scored 18 points and hit 4 of 6 from the 3-point arc against the Tigers, who finished 25-6. Nesmith profiles as an average athlete, leaving what his ceiling might be in areas beyond catch-and-shoot wing open to projection.
NUMBER TO NOTE: 0.7 – That’s Nesmith’s assist-to-turnover ratio, which puts him in the red. Nesmith averaged just 1.5 assists per 100 possessions over his 14 games as a sophomore. Given his dynamic shooting ability, it stands to reason defenses were always aware of his shot threat and, just as logically, Nesmith would have been presented with opportunities to find open teammates. In the NBA, that next pass to a shooter with a better shot must be spotted and executed in a heartbeat to exploit the most minute opportunities. Scouts will be looking for examples of Nesmith’s vision as they pore over his game tape.
MONEY QUOTE: “I think he’s absolutely the best shooter in the draft. There are things that he’s going to continue to work on and I’m going to be here to support him going forward, as well. He’s an unbelievable person, so I think that’s the most important thing when you talk about him. Through the whole process of everything, he’s just been great. A kid that has the potential that he has of being able to be a draft pick and once he got hurt he could have easily splintered and started focusing on his own thing and preparing for what he needed to prepare for. But he was always right there with these guys on the road.” – Vanderbilt coach Jerry Stackhouse when Aaron Nesmith declared for the NBA draft
BOTTOM LINE: Nesmith wasn’t the prize of Stackhouse’s 2018 recruiting class, which included five-stars Simi Shittu and Darius Garland. Both were one and dones, though Shittu went undrafted while Garland was the fifth pick, taken by Cleveland, in 2019. Nesmith checked in as the 63rd-ranked recruit according to the RSCI composite ranking. Nesmith started 19 of 32 games as a freshman, though, averaging 11.0 points and 5.5 rebounds in 29 minutes a game while showing early signs of his shooting prowess, hitting 34 percent from the 3-point arc while taking 60 percent of his shots from the arc. With Shittu and Garland gone, Nesmith became the focal point of Vanderbilt’s offense as a sophomore when he averaged 36 minutes and 23 points a game. Nesmith became a more one-dimensional player as a sophomore as his rebounding (5.4 from 7.6) and assists (1.0 from 1.9) per 40 minutes both declined sharply. It bears repeating that if Nesmith doesn’t become more than an elite 3-point shooter, he’ll have significant value in the NBA. How he can build off of that substantial base will determine his NBA ceiling – and projections of that will determine his fate on draft night.