Aaron Nesmith Beginning to Blossom in Boston's Rotation

by 24USATVFeb. 23, 2021, 6 a.m. 24
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While navigating through a monthlong stretch of erratic play, the Boston Celtics have tapped into a pleasantly surprising source of stability.

After registering 15 DNPs through the team’s first 25 games, Aaron Nesmith has emerged as a key cog in Boston’s rotation over the last eight days, during which time he has provided consistent, high-energy play on both ends of the court.

The rookie’s rise began to materialize on Feb. 14 in Washington, where he received some Valentine’s Day love in the form of 29 minutes off the bench after playing only two total minutes throughout the first seven games of the month. Nesmith's impact was obvious, as the Celtics outscored Washington by 10 points when he was on the court, while being outscored by 23 when he was on the bench.

Two nights later, during a matchup against Denver, Nesmith saw another 24 minutes of action. He recorded nine points, five rebounds, one blocked shot, and logged a plus-20 during a 13-point win over the Nuggets.

Over the last five games, Nesmith has amassed 120 minutes of court-time after playing only 113 minutes through the first 25 contests of the season. Despite the Celtics going 2-3 during that stretch, Nesmith has somehow accumulated a plus/minus rating of plus-34, while no other rotation player has logged higher than a plus-8.

“Aaron's energy makes a huge difference and I think it's really helped us,” Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said Monday afternoon following practice in Dallas. “I think we’ve got to get to the point where he can be in a closing lineup, potentially, until we're back full, just because it gives us more space, more ability to spread the floor, more ability to play when teams really attack our best players, to play in that space and get open looks.”

It may be surprising to read such a statement considering Nesmith’s limited action up until this past week, but he has evidently earned a great deal of trust from his coaching staff from behind closed doors.

“I know what he's going through every day,” Stevens said. “I know the progressions of work that he's going through. I know how much he and (assistant coach) Joe Mazzulla are covering in their individual work and in their preparation. And so I think [our decision to elevate him into the rotation] was we felt like he was ready to really contribute.

“We knew he had good energy. He's a high-character person, he plays the game with integrity. He hustles, he works, he runs, he stays in plays, we've seen him block a couple shots, he corner-crashes for rebounds. He does all those little things. And I think the biggest challenge, and you have to just kind of let this play out, is just adjusting to the speed of the game on offense. And he's done a better job of that as the last few weeks have gone on.”

Another challenge that Nesmith has faced is dealing with the unpredictable nature of his role. Prior to this past week, he never knew how much playing time he would be receiving on any given night, or if he would be playing at all. But he has been able to navigate through such a challenge by maintaining a level-headed approach, understanding that the rookie journey can be a roller-coaster ride.

“There’s going to be ups and downs in the NBA season for a lot of rookies, including myself,” Nesmith said. “This is the most games we’ve ever played in one season, so to play this many games back-to-back and make sure that you’re prepared for each one, it’s a hard thing to do. But as long as you stay consistent in your body of work, consistent in the things that you’re supposed to be doing every day, that will help you through and help you keep from hitting that rookie wall.”

Nesmith also hopes to help keep the Celtics from hitting a wall, as they continue through an injury-plagued stretch of inconsistent play.

“I can be a spark off the bench for the starters, and help us, if the tide of the game is going one way, help us change it and put it in a positive direction,” he said. “I think that's something that I can continue to do and something I can continue to bring each game and help us win.”

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