This article is a facsimile of an earlier version published by The Basketball Writers (TBW), which recently closed its doors.
These days, who doesn't love a good sharpshooter from 3?
If the 2019 NBA Draft was proof of anything, general managers are among those who dig the long ball. The second-round was littered with 3-point shooting specialists, from Carsen Edwards of the Boston Celtics to Kyle Guy of the Sacramento Kings. Every team needs a weapon to spread the defense out and draw defenders away from the hoop. Drafting role players who fulfill this specific need is in higher demand than ever before.
Combine that with a fairly weak crop of prospects in 2020 and there's no telling how high 3-point shooting role players may rise. Could we see a couple make their way into the lottery, similar to Cam Johnson did with the Phoenix Suns in 2019?
Johnson was an interesting study in draft evaluation. He was a very well-known commodity: a poor defender but an elite shooter, particularly on the move, with a game tailor-made for a supporting role. There were other factors that led to his draft rise, such as the preexisting relationship with Suns general manager Jeff Bower. But the consideration of taking speciality shooters that early in the draft illustrates a perception shift around its value. Teams covet high-percentage 3-point shooters.
Speaking of percentages, scouts cannot simply go by the numbers. College seasons are roughly 35 games long, enough for one super hot or super cold streak to distort the overall stats. So, starting the first half of the year shooting above 50 percent from 3-point land is super attractive but also could bring some praise for a performance that is unsustainable.
There's a clear difference between college and pro systems. Most guys who become NBA role players can carry an offense for a good college program. Aaron Nesmith is no exception.
During the 14 games he played at Vanderbilt this year, Nesmith averaged 23.0 points on a whopping 52.2 percent shooting and a strong 50 percent inside the arc.
Those numbers are bloated and likely unsustainable for a full season, however. Nesmith barely scratched the surface of SEC play before his season ended with a right foot injury.
While the sample size is low, the eye test saw dozens of clear glimpses of how his role at Vanderbilt fits into an NBA offense. Why? His head coach there is Jerry Stackhouse, a former NBA All-Star and G-League Coach of the Year. All the shooting actions built around Nesmith were packages found across the league, giving him a leg up in evaluation when scouts know he can make those types of shots.
Scouts love certainty. Imagining a player's transition from a college-level scheme to an NBA one is always just that: imagination. Some context clues can illuminate their abilities in important ways. Without a doubt, already performing in that NBA role is a huge bonus. That's why Nesmith's ability to score off the actions NBA teams run for shooters will be valued so much through the draft process.
Vanderbilt sensation Aaron Nesmith was off to a scorching-hot start, due in large part to the tutelage of his head coach. What Stackhouse has done for Nesmith's draft stock is immeasurable. The offensive system at Vanderbilt is similar to a pro-style, with multiple actions and plays reminiscent to sets run by nearly every NBA team. We thus have the privilege of seeing Nesmith float off screens to the corners, pull off re-screens in the middle of the floor and dart to the corner off the NBA-favorite Hammer action.
He's not bad as a standstill threat, but the ability to use him on the move is a great bonus for squads who want to leverage his strengths with their playbook: Spain pick-and-roll, hammer sets out of timeouts, elevators for late-clock looks, you name it.
Unlike the other guys on this list, Nesmith hasn't struggled with shot selection and taken too-bold attempts, particularly from inside the arc. Perhaps Stackhouse gets some credit, and some likely belongs to Nesmith's point guard Saben Lee.
Regardless, when looking for specialists and the right fit, there's little concern that what Nesmith does well fits perfectly into how pro teams envision a specialty shooter.
While Nesmith has ideal NBA size, I worry about his athleticism holding up on the other end of the floor. His on-ball defense is subpar.
He takes poor angles on closeouts, he doesn't have great lateral quickness and the angles he uses when he closes out leave him at a frequent disadvantage. The closeouts can be fixed from a technique standpoint, but the other two issues can only change via dedicated work with a speed coach.
Nesmith isn't really a multi-positional defender. He's most easily protected at the 3, and his sturdy frame could guard some 4s. Because he's pegged in a hole on that end, he strikes me as a relatively low-ceiling prospect.
In addition to the defense, he isn't a great creator off the bounce. Nesmith only has ten assists in the half-court and 29 attempts at the rim through 15 games. For all the skepticism about volume, it's not that Nesmith is unathletic or lacks bounce. however. He's shown some small flashes of being effective at curling screens or attacking poor closeouts
He can make shots, but don't expect too much else.
Overall Analysis and Draft Projection
Nesmith gets some lottery love for his high-efficiency 3-point shooting and size on the wing. The fact the Commodores fell off once his season ended bodes well for his impact on team success, too. But all effective high-end draft selections wind up being more than just shooters. In watching Nesmith closely, I'm not sure I see where his additional impact comes in.
So while mocks can have him knocking on the door of the top ten, I'd feel more comfortable with him in the late part of the first round. He's best when in a system that utilizes shooters, next to a strong lead guard and a defensively-capable unit with rim protection. To me, those are too many prerequisites for success to warrant a high draft pick, where selecting franchises are less likely to boast all those necessities.