Celtics

With NBA playoffs looming, Aaron Nesmith is staying ready for the Celtics

'"Whenever your name is called, we need you, and we put you out there for a reason.'"

Aaron Nesmith Celtics
Boston Celtics' Aaron Nesmith. AP Photo/Michael Dwyer
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On any given day or evening heading into a game, Aaron Nesmith typically has no idea how much he’s going to see the floor for the Celtics. The second-year guard/forward happens to play behind three of the Celtics’ most integral players – Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart – so playing time can understandably be a bit scarce.

So how do you keep perspective as a 22-year-old still trying to find your way in the toughest professional basketball league in the world?

“I like to be the best version of myself every single day,” he told Boston.com. “My favorite quote is, ‘Be one percent better today than you were yesterday, and in 100 days, you’ll be able to be 100 percent better.’”

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On paper, the backup guard/forward’s 2021 stats might not paint an outward picture of improvement.

Nesmith has averaged just 3.8 points, 1.7 rebounds, and 0.4 assists per game this year on 39.6 percent shooting (27 percent from three-point range), which is down across the board from his rookie campaign in 2020.

Of course, some context is needed: he’s playing fewer minutes this year (3.8 per game) than as a rookie (4.7) as the likes of Derrick White, Grant Williams and Payton Pritchard get minutes over him in the rotation.

Finding a rhythm can be tough under those circumstances, especially for a young player. But Nesmith says there are still ways to get better while he waits for his opportunities.

“It’s definitely tough not always getting to play when you want to,” he admitted. “But also, it’s just a great opportunity to learn from those guys. [Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown] are just such great basketball players, and they’re such masters at their craft. Every day, I get to just walk in and learn from them.”

Nesmith says he tries to take bits of Tatum and Brown’s games and work them into his skill sets during drills and individual work.

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But more than that, the second-year reserve adds he watches his superstar teammates intently so he can figure out how to complement them on the court.

“When I’m out there, what can I do to make those guys better? That’s my role,” he said. “Can I help space the floor? How can I help make their lives easier in actions? Maybe if I got a weaker defender on me, how can I run up and set a ball screen or slip out to make sure that there’s some confusion to take some of the pressure off of those guys?”

Nesmith’s buy-in to fulfilling his obligations – whatever form they take – mirrors the philosophy that helped turn the Celtics from a .500 team sitting outside of the Eastern Conference playoff picture in mid-January to the NBA’s best team down the stretch of the regular season.

After finishing as the No. 2 seed in the conference, Boston will find out the identity of its first-round opponent after the result of Tuesday night’s play-in game between the Brooklyn Nets and Cleveland Cavaliers. (The winner of that game will be the seventh seed and will travel to Boston to open the playoffs.)

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Though Nesmith might be relegated to the back end of the rotation, he says veterans like Tatum, Brown and Al Horford have continually had a message for him: stay ready.

“‘Whenever your name is called, we need you, and we put you out there for a reason,’” he relayed. “So every time that my name was called, I always make sure that I’m ready to go and I’m ready to give it 110 percent. Because I know even if it’s just for five minutes, those five minutes are very important, crucial to the ballgame.”

The former No. 14 overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, Nesmith says he sees himself “solidified, making plays, helping my team win championships” 10 years down the line.

While he works on his game, he’s also staying busy off the court, signing a shoe deal with New Balance last year and serving as one of their brand ambassadors as the apparel company opens up a new state-of-the-art indoor track at its facilities this week.

The potential expansion of New Balance into the basketball world, which got a big boost from the addition of Clippers star Kawhi Leonard, serves as an interesting parallel to what Nesmith might hope for his own career.

“Just because they’re not as prevalent in the sports world now doesn’t mean they’re not going to be in one or two years,” Nesmith said of New Balance’s future. “Everybody comes up to me and asks, ‘What are you wearing? I like those.’ … I think New Balance is making a very big splash in the basketball world specifically and only continue to grow, so that’s why I’m also very excited to be a part of this wave.

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Time will tell if Nesmith’s basketball career will follow the same optimistic arc. For now, he’s just staying ready for whatever comes, whether it’s knocking down a clutch shot or playing the hard-nosed defense the Celtics have been known for this season.

He might see just five minutes, or even less, in each playoff game. But NBA Finals runs need unlikely heroes, and Nesmith could get chances to become one soon.

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