When the Celtics selected Aaron Nesmith with the 14th pick of the 2020 draft, they hoped he could provide a burst of outside shooting for a team that sorely needed it.
Nesmith impressed Boston’s brass with his hustle and work ethic, but his shot never really became an asset. After Nesmith made just 27 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc last season, he was one of the centerpieces of a trade package that brought Malcolm Brogdon to the Celtics from the Pacers in July.
On Wednesday night, Nesmith will return to TD Garden to face his former team.
“Aaron’s great,” Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla said. “He came into a situation where he had an opportunity, but it was also up and down for him, and I thought he handled it with great professionalism. He works really hard, and I thought he played hard, and then I’m watching him on film with another team and he plays really, really hard. So I’m excited for the situation that he’s in. He’s taking advantage of it.”
This season, Nesmith has started 15 games for Indiana, and he’s averaging 8.8 points and 3.5 rebounds while shooting 38.7 percent from the 3-point line, all career highs.
“His shooting is getting better,” Mazzulla said. “I think one of the things he doesn’t get enough credit for is his defense. He’s a great individual defender, a great pick-and-roll defender, so he’s really found a role there of being a great defender and bringing energy to the team.”
Added Celtics guard Derrick White: “I mean, no matter how much time he got, whether it was 12 minutes, one minute, he played his heart out. So many times he’d be out of the play and just sprint back out of nowhere to get a block or something. So happy to see him get some time there in Indiana and he’s a great guy.”
Former Celtics center Daniel Theis, who was also part of the trade, underwent knee surgery last month and has yet to play this season. The Pacers enter Wednesday night 15-16 and in ninth place in the Eastern Conference.
Coming back to earth
The Celtics entered Tuesday night hanging on to the league’s top-ranked offense by a thread, with a 116.8 rating that was just a shade above the second-place Suns (116.7). But they have pulled back from the historic pace at which they started this season.
Over the last nine games, the Celtics are averaging 105.6 points per 100 possessions, the worst mark in the NBA during this stretch. It’s no coincidence that they are shooting 31.8 percent from the 3-point line over those nine games, 28th in the NBA.
But Brogdon believes the poor 3-point shooting is actually a reason for optimism. The offense is not broken, he said, it’s more a matter of some bad luck.
“I think we’re moving the ball,” he said. “If you watch us, we’re getting a lot of open shots. We’re just missing shots we’ve been making for the first 25 games, so we have to make some shots. It’s really that simple.”
On the bright side, the Celtics’ defense — the backbone of their NBA Finals run — seems to be rounding into form after a challenging start to this season.
During this nine-game span, Boston owns the NBA’s fourth-ranked defense, allowing just 106.1 points per 100 possessions.
“I think we’ve had to hang our hat on something and that’s the way we’ve stayed in a lot of these games is defensively,” Brogdon said. “Especially over the last five games, we’ve struggled a little bit offensively. So defensively, I think we’ve really picked it up. I know we have to be top-five, top-three defense, so I think we’re playing excellent on that end. We just have to get both ends clicking together.”
Back in action
Forward Jayson Tatum, who missed Sunday’s loss against the Magic for personal reasons, was back at practice on Tuesday and is expected to play on Wednesday.