Draft Notes: Is Aaron Nesmith a Thompson or a Stauskas?

Klay Thompson came out of Washington State in 2011 touted for his shooting ability. In 34 appearances for the Cougars, Thompson scored 21.6 points and made around three 3s per game on a 40% clip, cementing his place in lottery conversations. Regularly showing off his off-ball IQ, dynamic footwork, and silky smooth release, draft analysts anointed him one of the premier shooting prospects of the draft with “a jump shot as pure as the driven snow.” At the very least, Thompson would be able to carve out a niche Kyle Korver role in the increasingly three point heavy league. In observing Thompson’s rise some years back, I made the concerted effort to identify a shooting specialist swingman that emerges in the lottery each year. In addition to being able to shoot the open 3, this player understands how to move off the ball, utilize screens, and exploit his footwork to get to his spots. More importantly, this player has demonstrated the ability to substantially impact the college game with his shooting. For the sake of narrative coherence, I will crudely call this concept the Thompson Standard. The prospect that who best meets the criteria of the Thompson Standard in this year’s draft is Aaron Nesmith.

A stress fracture in Nesmith’s foot ended his season at a 14 game sample size, where he averaged 23.5 points on a ridiculous 52.2 percent from 3. Sustaining the 3 point clip for the rest of the season would have been pretty difficult, most likely impossible, but more intriguing than the raw percentages, Nesmith consistently exhibited the variety and difficulty of his shotmaking. Not limited to open spotups, Nesmith can curl off a screen at full speed before stopping on a dime and rising Thompson-esque into a mid range jumper, scoring 1.463PPP (97th percentile). He can also pump fake jab step his defender into oblivion before stepping back into a three, shoulders squared and in balance. Check out his highlights:

In the NBA, execs salivate over this type of multi-faceted shooting skill set, especially considering the rise of players such as Duncan Robinson. But drafting shooting for the sake of shooting hasn’t always yielded positive results, the most notable of which is fellow Michigan sharpshooter, Nik Stauskas. A fluid 2 guard, Stauskas lit up Michigan basketball with his shooting ability, averaging 44.2 from three over 2 seasons. While not as dynamic off the ball (not that he was bad), he was arguably a better shooter than Thompson off the dribble with his compact, lightning fast release. Naturally, Stauskas seemed to meet all the criteria of the Thompson Standard leading up to the draft given the similarities in shooting prowess. In hindsight, it is easy to identify why Stauskas flamed out of the league after five uninspiring seasons. In an article written by Ben Rubin of The Stepien, Rubin talks about the failure to meet threshold athleticism, specifically on defense, as an early red flag. In his breakdown, he discusses how the failure to meet a threshold athleticiss doomed Stauskas on defense, painting a picture of a player who simply cannot hang with more athletic or physical players. He also supplements his argument by identifying basic statistical markers, such as rebounding and steals that Stauskas failed to meet. While crude, these stats do reflect a potential lack of strength, athleticism, effort, sense of time and space, awareness, etc.

Nesmith has shown hints of athleticism at Vandy, with the occasional circus finish or high-flying dunk, but athleticism manifests in ways other than just vertical leaping (there’s no way you can convince me that Pat fucking Connaughton was the second most athletic player in that combine), and defensive athleticism in particular has proven to be a lot harder to project. At 6’6 with a 6’10 wingspan, Nesmith has the prototypical frame for a wing defender and has shown the base athletic capabilities to stick to his assignments. However, the on-ball effort proved shaky and the more subtle markers of defensive athleticism, such as change of speed, lower body strength have yet to be seen on any consistent basis, which reflects in 0.991 points allowed per possession (12th percentile). The meager 14 games sample size only serves to make the picture fuzzier.

In a league so ripe with great shooters, prospects relegated to the shooter label need secondary or tertiary skill sets to compete. The rise of shooting has weeded out all the bad shooters in the NBA but has had the same effects on guys who can only shoot. This isn’t a groundbreaking discovery or anything. Thompson was an exceptional defender at Washington State and Stauskas was utterly below average at Michigan. I believe that Aaron Nesmith has more defensive upside than he gets credit for, certainly more than Nik Stauskas did in the same stage of development. The hope is that he can leverage his athletic gifts and develop into a more consistent, reliable defender. Until then, he has a long way to go from reaching the Thompson Standard.

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