When the Celtics drafted Aaron Nesmith 14th overall in 2020, the former Vanderbilt star was expected to be a part of the team’s young core.
Fast forward two years, and he’s no longer with the franchise after being dealt to the Pacers in a trade for Malcolm Brogdon.
“I was completely caught off guard. I was golfing, was on the sixth hole,” Nesmith said. “I was playing pretty decent and I got the phone call, messed my day up. I only played like one more hole and I called it a day.”
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Nesmith received the call from Celtics president of basketball operations and former Butler coach Brad Stevens, and two weeks later he was starting for the Pacers in their third Summer League game at Cox Pavilion in Las Vegas. The 22-year-old had been around his new team, sitting courtside during Indiana’s Summer League opener July 8 at Thomas & Mack Center and attending its practice Monday at UNLV, but he wasn’t eligible to participate until Brogdon passed a physical for the Celtics.
On Tuesday, Nesmith was finally cleared and totaled 12 points, seven rebounds, two steals and four turnovers in the Pacers’ 101-87 win over the Pistons. The 6-5 wing played a team-high 25 minutes and was begging for more.
“We were up big and he was like, ‘Can I stay in a little bit longer?’” Pacers assistant and Summer League coach Ronald Nored said. “It’s always exciting when you have a guy like that that wants to play and is ready to play, and I think he did a good job.”
Nesmith committed a turnover 16 seconds into the game, but on the Pacers’ next possession he drove down the lane and dropped in a floater. About a minute later, he missed a mid-range bank shot when Terry Taylor grabbed the offensive rebound and kicked it back out to Nesmith. Without hesitation, Nesmith drilled a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer.
Nesmith’s most impressive play came in the third quarter when he stole the ball on one end and finished with a two-handed dunk on the other.
“Just play free, be a good 3-and-D guy,” Nesmith said of the Pacers’ message to him. “I know I can be a top notch 3-and-D guy in this league, so that’s the focus, that’s what we’re gonna work towards and that’s what I’m gonna become.”
Indiana faces Washington in its fourth Summer League game Friday at Thomas & Mack Center, which will be televised at 9 p.m. on ESPN2. Nesmith should get plenty of minutes with the Pacers shutting down No. 6 pick Bennedict Mathurin (sore left big toe) and second-year players Isaiah Jackson and Terry Taylor for the remainder of Summer League. Indiana also waived second-year guard Duane Washington Jr. on Thursday.
The Pacers now have a trio of 2020 lottery selections on their roster as Nesmith joins Jalen Smith and Tyrese Haliburton, who were the No. 10 and 12 picks, respectively. All three players were acquired in trades.
Haliburton was shipped from Sacramento to Indiana in exchange for two-time All-Star Domantas Sabonis, and the 22-year-old point guard is viewed as a franchise cornerstone for the Pacers. Smith, also 22, hardly played in Phoenix before being dealt to Indiana and blossoming next to Haliburton.
“That’s kind of cool, 10, 12 and 14, three of the lottery picks in 2020, that’s gonna be a pretty fun, pretty cool story going forward,” Nesmith said. “Hopefully we can do something special together.”
Nesmith averaged 4.2 points and 2.2 rebounds while shooting 41.7% overall and 31.8% on 3s in 98 games across his first two seasons with the Celtics. Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said coming to Indiana is “the perfect opportunity” for Nesmith to grow, and he plans on elevating his new teammates, too.
“I learned what it takes to win in this league,” Nesmith said of his time in Boston. “Being able to be a part of a Finals run, make it to the playoffs both of my years, get some playoff experience. So hopefully I can bring that over here to Indiana and kind of show the other young guys what it takes to win and that nothing’s gonna be given to you.”