Aaron Nesmith had fun while proving he belonged in best season yet for Indiana Pacers

Nesmith grew into a starter this past season
Mar 1, 2024; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA;  Indiana Pacers forward Aaron Nesmith (23) dribbles against New Orleans Pelicans forward Larry Nance Jr. (22) during the first half at Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 1, 2024; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; Indiana Pacers forward Aaron Nesmith (23) dribbles against New Orleans Pelicans forward Larry Nance Jr. (22) during the first half at Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports / Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

INDIANAPOLIS — Before the Indiana Pacers 2023-24 campaign even got going, it was clear that wing Aaron Nesmith was going to have a big impact. As the franchise tried to sort out what traits and skills would be important in sorting out their starting lineups, a few traits kept surfacing.

Defense and selflessness rose to the top. Indiana wanted defensive playmakers who could guard their yard and also could be effective on offense between Tyrese Haliburton and Pascal Siakam. Good shooters, quality defenders, and overall smart players would dominate the conversation when it came to playing time.

Insert Aaron Nesmith, who began the season coming off the bench. The young wing was a reserve for the first two or so months of the Pacers season, and he never hung his head. He continued to get better and tried to earn a bigger role.

"Be a high level three-and-D guy," Nemsith said last season of how he would get on the court. That mentality applied early in his 2023-24 season.

His defense maintained from last season, which made it easy for head coach Rick Carlisle to move Nesmith into the opening five. His shot improved and his perimeter skills were much better. He was no longer limited to just catch-and-shoot opportunities offensively.

That growth led to a contract extension. But for Nesmith — a former lottery pick — the work was just beginning.

He showed improvement in just about every area this season. His defense, which was already strong, got even better. He reliably took on guard and wing assignments, including Jalen Brunson and Khris Middleton in the playoffs. He held his own at times, and shifting the young wing on to Brunson was one of Indiana's most important adjustments against New York.

He proved that his offensive fit with Indiana isn't a fluke. After a career year in terms of three-point shooting at a decent volume in 2022-23, Nesmith improved both his attempt rate and accuracy from beyond the arc this past season. That made him a dreamy fit in many Pacers lineups, and he used those abilities to become a better rim attacker.

"You watch him on film, he seems very comfortable in their offense. He understands where his shots are coming from," Utah Jazz head coach Will Hardy said of Nesmith. Hardy was an assistant coach with the Boston Celtics before joining the Jazz, and he and Nesmith overlapped there.

"It's been a ride. It's been great to showcase what I can do on this stage and with these guys. But there's still a lot of work ahead to do," Nesmith said of his improvement since being traded.

He carried his skills into the playoffs on the defensive end. His two-point shooting was tremendous, and while his three pointer never emerged, he was still a needed weapon. On both ends, he earned his 33 minutes per game.

"It was all so fun. That competition daily knowing that I'm going to have the same matchup I had two nights before, just trying to switch up little things and take little details and make their lives harder, it was a lot of fun," Nesmith said of the postseason. Guard T.J. McConnell said that Nesmith, and other Pacers youngsters, were valuable in the postseason despite their little experience.

And so, despite having a tough role on both ends. Nesmith proved he belongs this year. He's a part of Indiana's young core. He's still only 24, yet he was a postseason starter and provided needed skills. After a slower first two years in the league, the South Carolina native has been all energy and growth since coming to Indiana.

He finished his fourth season in the league with averages of 12.2 points and 3.8 rebounds per game. He received Most Improved Player and All-Defense votes while shooting 41.9% from deep in the regular season. It was a great campaign.

All of it came with a career high in minutes. Nesmith belongs on the court, and he loves the team he plays with. It was the most fulfilling season he's ever had, and it led to important growth for the Pacers.

"This has been my [most fun] year in my four years in the NBA. Everybody we have in the locker room, the journey that we've had, the amount of people that didn't believe in us to make it this far with this group has just been extremely fun," he said at this end of season exit interview. "I know years in the future I'll look back on this year as one of those years that I just appreciated being a part of the ride."


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Published
Tony East

TONY EAST

Tony East is the Publisher of AllPacers. He has previously written for Forbes Sports, the West Indianapolis Community News, WTHR, and more while hosting the Locked On Pacers podcast.