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Aaron Nesmith discusses being traded, joining the Pacers and the opportunity to be 'a top-notch 3 & D guy'
The Pacers now have three lottery picks from the 2020 draft: 10, 12 and 14. Nesmith made his Pacers debut Tuesday, then talked about this fresh start.
LAS VEGAS — Aaron Nesmith wasn’t expecting to be traded by the Boston Celtics.
Almost two weeks ago, he was on the sixth hole of the Charleston Municipal Golf Course in South Carolina when his phone rang. It was Brad Stevens, president of basketball operations for the Boston Celtics (and an Indy native).
“I was completely caught off guard,” he detailed Tuesday night in his first comments since the trade was completed. “I was playing pretty decent and I got the phone call. It messed my day up and I only played one more hole and I called it a day.”
Stevens, who coached Nesmith during his rookie season before moving into a front-office role this past year, informed him about the trade. He told Nesmith that “he appreciated my time there. He believed in me and that it would be a great opportunity for me going forward.”
That opportunity would be in Indiana, where the rebuilding Pacers shipped Malcolm Brogdon north to Boston for Nesmith, a 2023 first-round pick and four other players.
Nesmith, 22, was a 2020 lottery pick. But he was out of the rotation on a contending team and needed valuable playing time for individual growth. Meanwhile, the Pacers are needing help on the wing and treasure acquiring players who didn’t fit elsewhere and could pop in Indy. That’s one way they’ve tried to build the roster.
Nesmith has been in Las Vegas for a week, but couldn’t play until the trade was finalized, which required Brogdon to take a physical. He finally did, was introduced as a member of the Celtics on Tuesday and then that night, Nesmith wore a No. 23 Pacers jersey for the first time.
He’d prefer 24, his college number, but that belongs to veteran Buddy Hield. So Nesmith picked the number closest to it.
Nesmith started in his Pacers debut, the team’s third game at summer league. They led wire-to-wire in a dominating win over the Detroit Pistons 101-87.
“We had a great practice yesterday, I think we were really locked in today in our meeting this morning,” said Summer Pacers head coach Ronald Nored. “And then we came into the game locked in. The thing we wanted to do differently from last game was pick up the pressure, make them feel us a little bit more than we did to start the last game and I think we did that pretty well.”
Nesmith logged a team-high 25 minutes. He finished with 12 points (on 4-of-10 shooting), 7 rebounds, 2 steals and four turnovers.
“We were up big,” Nored continued, “and he was like, ‘Can I stay in a little bit longer?’ He was itching to play and so it’s always exciting when you have a guy like that that wants to play, that’s ready to play and I think he did a good job.”
Nesmith attended Pacers practice on Monday, but was not allowed to participate since the trade had not gone through. Nored was impressed with his play, his impact early on and how he was able to pick things up on the fly.
“We just wanted for him to join the team, feel good with the team and the team to feel good about him,” Nored said. “Not try to overdue anything because it’s like showing him too much film. If we overload him, he’ll be paralyzed out there. It was better for us if we just let him be him, let him play and we’re also learning about him.
“So we’re trying to watch him, see what he does well in the context of what we’re doing and we’ll be doing that over the next couple of games.”
Nesmith committed a few early turnovers and there was signs of his newness to the team, all to be expected. It was also his first meaningful minutes since April 10 during the regular season.
“It was definitely a little bit challenging not being able to practice or do anything beforehand,” said Nesmith. “It was fun though, just being able to go out there, play free, play with the guys and learn as we go. I had a couple turnovers early, it was just a little nerves.”
Nored didn’t know much about Nesmith, but Brad Stevens, his former Butler coach, is a close friend and mentor. So they talked.
“I talked to Brad about him a good bit about the trade,” he said. “That’s pretty much my knowledge of him. Once he got out here, we spent a little time with him. We’re getting to know him better and we’ll know him better as we complete summer league.
“(Brad said he’s) just a great guy, a salt to the earth guy and a good player. Even over the years when we’ve had conversations, he’s always talked about how good of a guy and how good of a player Nesmith is. To get a guy like that, a guy I really respect likes, that’s a good thing for us.”
Nesmith appeared in 52 games last season for the Celtics, who lost in the NBA Finals to the Golden State Warriors. Playing behind several proven wings, Nesmith just tried not to get in the way. He averaged only 3.8 points and 1.7 rebounds per game. His shooting percentage plummeted from 37% his rookie season to 27% last year.
So after the season, he took a step back and reevaluated everything.
“I created a more clear-cut game plan and goals for myself and what I wanted for this upcoming season,” he shared. “And where I see myself from the beginning to the end.”
He worked out and started playing more golf. However, when I asked him for his handicap, he laughed. “I don’t know,” he said. “We’re no good. We’re learning.”
Coming to the Pacers, they have depth at guard but need help on the wing. That’s where he can contribute immediately. He said the message from Rick Carlisle and the front office was “To play free, be a good 3-and-D guy and I could be a top-notch 3-and-D guy in this league, so that’s the focus,” he said. “That’s what we’re going to work for and that’s what I’m going to become.”
At this moment, the Pacers’ projected starting lineup likely looks like this: Tyrese Haliburton, Buddy Hield/Chris Duarte, Bennedict Mathurin, Jalen Smith and Myles Turner. Nesmith could have more of a role with the second unit, led by point guard T.J. McConnell.
During his time in Boston, he experienced a winning culture. He saw what it takes to not just make the playoffs, but also advance.
The Pacers haven’t gotten out of the first round since 2014.
“I learned that winning in this league is very challenging,” Nesmith said. “I learned what it takes to win in this league. Being able to be part of a finals run, make it to the playoffs both of my years and get some playoff experience. Hopefully I can bring that over here to Indiana and show the other young guys what it takes to win and that nothing is going to be given to you here.”
Among the young guys are two others in his draft class. Smith, who re-signed on a three-year deal, was selected 10th by Phoenix and Haliburton was taken 12th by Sacramento. Now, the trio of lottery picks in the class that never experienced the pre-draft process because of COVID-19, are together and all expected to take on bigger roles.
“That’s gonna be a pretty fun, pretty cool story going forward,” Nesmith said. “Hopefully we can do something special together.”
As seen in the photo above, Nesmith was courtside for the Summer Pacers’ first game. He saw Mathurin, Andrew Nembhard and eight other rookies on the roster. He also got a workout in with the core Pacers.
Nesmith needed a greater opportunity and a fresh start, and the Pacers look forward to seeing how he can contribute.
“I think the biggest thing for us is we’re trying to get aggressive with getting younger players,” team president Kevin Pritchard told Fieldhouse Files. “Aaron hasn’t played as much, but I remember seeing him play last summer. I remember a game where he had I think like 34 points, made a bunch of 3s and our scouts liked him in the draft.
“We track those kind of guys and it’s almost like a second draft for us. We look at it like sometimes a guy gets behind a player that plays well — the Jaylen Browns and (Jayson) Tatums — and just didn’t get an opportunity. With us, he’ll get an opportunity.”
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