Editor's note: As the Warriors prepare for the 2020 NBA draft, NBC Sports Bay Area will present a twice-weekly series spotlighting “Sleepers” likely to be evaluated. This is the third of a 12-part series on “Sleepers,” intriguing prospects but considered risky to select among the top 10.
It has been nine years since the Warriors, at the insistence of Jerry West, drafted a pure shooter. Someone who commands constant attention inside 30 feet. That pick, a gym rat named Klay Thompson, turned out quite nicely.
Klay turned 30 in March. He’s coming off ACL surgery and rehab. There is no reason to believe he won’t return to All-Star level. There is every reason for the Warriors to study the best shooters available in 2020.
At or near the top of that list is Aaron Nesmith, who has some similarities to Thompson.
They’re both natural wings, possessing the same height, 6-foot-6. They each weigh 215 pounds, give or take a sandwich. Their wingspans measure 6-10. They each excel in finding offense off the ball off screens or via catch-and-shoot. Neither specializes in passing or ball-handling. Thompson flashed defensive potential in three years at Washington State, and Nesmith did the same in two years at Vanderbilt. Neither of their college teams appeared in the NCAA Tournament.
Above all, Nesmith is a similar athlete that exhibits the same sublime shooting as Thompson. Both are as comfortable from 23 feet as from 10 feet.
Though Nesmith is not expected to go at the top of the lottery, his gorgeous 3-ball is bound to tempt NBA front offices to consider taking him in the middle of the first round. The league places a premium on shooters, and there’s always room for those with great potential.
“Everything is about fit, but all 30 teams can use somebody that can shoot the basketball,” Vanderbilt coach Jerry Stackhouse, an 18-year NBA wing, told 247Sports. “(Nesmith) has the size, he’s going to learn, he’s going to get better.”
Nesmith has one strike against him. Sort of. He played only 14 games last season before being sidelined with a stress fracture in his right foot, so he didn’t leave a lot for NBA teams to study.
Those 14 games, though, left a strong impression. Nesmith scored at least 25 points on four occasions, drilling at least seven triples in four games and making at least four in five others. He was leading the SEC in scoring -- ranking fifth in the nation -- while making most of his attempt beyond the arc, including many from deep NBA range.
David Grace, a Vanderbilt assistant under Stackhouse, was an assistant at Oregon State when Thompson was at Wazzu. Grace didn’t flinch in comparing Nesmith with Thompson.
“He garnered so much attention, yet he still got his points within the system,” Grace told Chris Dortch of NBA.com. “Coach Stackhouse’s system fit him perfectly. We were in awe when the kid missed a shot. And he could dunk on people. You definitely had your hands full if you were guarding him.”
In addition to Klay, a couple other NBA comparisons are familiar to Dub Nation. Namely, ex-Warriors Glenn Robinson III and Alec Burks. Terrence Ross of the Magic and Tony Snell of the Pistons are two other names that surfaced.
Nesmith was the South Carolina player of the year as a senior at Porter Gaud High School in Charleston, S.C. He’s bright enough to be admitted to Vandy and as a freshman was named to the SEC’s Academic Honor Roll. His character draws raves from Stackhouse.
So, too, does that NBA-ready J.
Aaron Nesmith profile
Position: Shooting guard/small forward
Birthdate: Oct. 16, 1999 (20)
Hometown: Charleston, S.C.
2019-20 stats: 23.0 points (51.2 percent FG, 52.2 percent 3p, 82.5 percent FT), 4.9 rebounds, 1.4 steals, 0.9 assists.
What they’re saying: “I’m super excited for him,” Stackhouse said. “I think he’s absolutely the best shooter in the draft. There are things that he’s going to continue to work on and I’m going to be here to support him going forward as well. I know he’ll find his way back to Nashville, and we really appreciate what he meant to us. We’re just happy for him and hope he gets as high in the draft as he possibly can.” – Stackhouse, when Nesmith declared for the NBA draft in March.
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