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Evaluating how Aaron Nesmith fits the Indiana Pacers, potential role in 2022 and beyond

Chris Phillips
Aaron Nesmith, Indiana Pacers
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Indiana Pacers surprised many in the NBA on July 1, trading Malcolm Brogdon to the Boston Celtics for a package headlined by Aaron Nesmith and a 2023 first-round pick. While Indiana primarily wanted to dump the oft-injured guard’s salary, it also acquired intriguing assets in the deal.

Looking at the return for the Pacers, the likes of Nik Stauskas, Malik Fitts, Juwan Morgan and Daniel Theis are unlikely to play meaningful minutes for the team this season. It obviously makes Nesmith and the 2023 the centerpieces in the deal.

While it’s far too early to evaluate potential players Indiana could target with a late Round 1 selection in the 2023 NBA Draft, Nesmith is an intriguing player for fans to monitor this upcoming season.

Related: 50 Top NBA players of 2022 – Stephen Curry leads the charge after brilliant season

Why the Indiana Pacers acquired Aaron Nesmith

NBA: Detroit Pistons at Boston Celtics
Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

Coming in at 6-foot-5 and 215 lbs., Nesmith’s physical measurements are comparable to first-round draft pick Bennedict Mathurin (6-foot-6, 210 lbs.). However, that’s about where their comparisons end.

  • Aaron Nesmith contract: $3.8 million salary (2022-’23), $5.634 million club option (2023-’23)

Nesmith isn’t thought to be overly athletic. He does show the ability to shoot very well and be a solid defender. Coming out of college he drew comparisons to Cameron Johnson, Robert Covington, and current Pacer Buddy Hield.

Personally, I think he could be the Pacers version of Detroit’s Saddiq Bey. The Pacers will most likely ask Nesmith to hit the open shots when available. Defensively, Indiana will likely assign him most often to the opponents’ slowest wing player due to Nesmith’s limited athleticism.

Again, Nesmith isn’t the quickest with his feet so asking him to guard the opponent’s best player isn’t going to be a good idea. Indiana can work with him this summer on his on-ball defense and switchability. With a quality coaching staff around him, they can also emphasize filmy study and doing extensive homework on the upcoming opponent before each game.

If he plays with more confidence and better technique, he might improve defensively and fit within the system.

Outlook for Aaron Nesmith in 2022

NBA: Playoffs-Boston Celtics at Miami Heat
Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

So what can the Pacers expect from Aaron Nesmith in this upcoming season? There should be a clear role for him in the rotation, with a starting lineup likely featuring Tyrese Haliburton, Buddy Hield, Bennedict Mathurin, Jalen Smith and Myles Turner. The second unit will be led by T.J. McConnell. Oshae Brissett, Chris Duarte, Goga Bitadze, Isaiah Jackson, and Nesmith will be competing for the other four spots.

Most likely it comes down to Brissett, Bitadze, and Nesmith competing for the other two spots. Subsequently, the addition of Nesmith provides Indiana head coach Rick Carlisle with some lineup flexibility. He could have a lineup that consists of Mathurin, Duarte, Brissett, Haliburton, and Nesmith. 

Obviously, this lineup wouldn’t fare well across an entire season for Indiana. However, in short bursts, it could be lethal. These players are all relatively the same size and could switch on any pick and roll without having a player put in a mismatch. With today’s game heavily featuring the pick and roll in most offenses, this can be advantageous. 

The Pacers have a reputation for being a defensive-minded ball club. Carlisle himself is a strong defensive coach. Nesmith’s addition will help the Pacers strengthen their defense and should help lighten the burden on the team relying so heavily on Turner blocking shots. 

Related: NBA offseason schedule

Long-term fit with the Indiana Pacers

NBA: Boston Celtics at New Orleans Pelicans
Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Nesmith’s long-term outlook will most likely resemble what he does this season, coming off the bench and averaging around 15-20 minutes per night. He won’t be overly flashy and there will be a random game where he goes off for 20+ points when his shots are falling from the perimeter. And if things break right for both him and the Pacers, Boston will look back on this deal and regret trading their former first-rounder.

This is, of course, the glass half full viewpoint. There’s another outcome for Indiana, with Nesmith being buried on its depth chart just as he was in Boston. Nesmith’s lack of speed will be detrimental both on offense and defense. If he is unable to become a meaningful contributor, the lone benefit from the Brogdon trade will be offloading his contract.

Nesmith’s range of outcomes is anywhere from non-factor to rotation player and anything in between. Ultimately, the Pacers trade gives them another young player that they can hopefully take and mold into a significant contributor, just like they did with Jalen Smith. This is something the Pacers have been able to do, recently, with some success. Will they have “struck gold” again? Only time will tell. However, Nesmith and the Pacers have nothing to lose by trying out this relationship.