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Nesmith earns contract extension from Pacers, Toppin will wait
The Pacers made a last-minute deal to lock up Aaron Nesmith as a key part of the team's playing rotation.
A week after his 24th birthday, the Pacers offered forward Aaron Nesmith a belated gift in the form of a three-year contract for $33 million, according to Woj.
Since arriving from Boston before last season as part of a trade that sent Malcolm Brogdon to Boston, Nesmith has been a valuable utility player. So valuable in fact, Nesmith filled a vacant power forward hole in the lineup where he would start 60 games last season.
Adjusting to that role at both ends of the floor while also adjusting to the Pacers fast paced style of play could not have been easy, but Nesmith was the least of the team’s problems last year.
While not starting this year with Obi Toppin signed to play power forward, Nesmith may be even more valuable. His game continues to progress and he seemed much more comfortable on the floor during preseason. The defense will always be there, but his understanding of how to make an impact on offense, when and where to attack, was apparent.
The Pacers saw enough to know they wanted to keep him around for an extra three years past this season. Rick Carlisle mentioned that Nesmith has been working with Lloyd Pierce to develop that comfort level on offense and the hard work has literally paid off.
“It’s very rewarding,” Nesmith said regarding the contract extension. “I came here with nothing but opportunity, and being able to make the most of that and make this home, definitely it’s a great feeling.”
Obi Toppin was also eligible for an extension but both sides seemed happy with letting this season play out before making an additional commitment. The risk for the Pacers is that Toppin plays as expected with nightly highlights while running ahead of Tyrese Haliburton all season and another team makes play for Toppin as a restricted free agent.
The Pacers can always match and considering the young contracts on the books for at least a couple more years, that shouldn’t be a problem for a two or three year extension. For his part, Toppin would have to weigh how valuable he is playing with Haliburton versus a situation without a lead guard looking to get the ball to you whenever he can. Essentially, the Pacers having to pay Toppin more after this season than a rookie scale extension right now would be a great problem.
Rotation set to start season
The Pacers finally had all of their key players available for the final preseason game with Andrew Nembhard joining the fray. Carlisle used ten players until early in the fourth quarter when he extended the bench to third unit players.
The 10-man rotation included starters, Haliburton, Bruce Brown, Bennedict Mathurin, Obi Toppin and Myles Turner along with reserves, Nembhard, Nesmith, Buddy Hield, Jalen Smith and TJ McConnell.
If Carlisle were to shorten the rotation to nine, I would assume that McConnell would be out of the rotation. If the Pacers have anything, it is an overlap of guards. Nembhard and Brown can both run the point. Brown has been an early sub (with Nembhard out) with Hield and Nesmith entering fist off the bench which allows Haliburton and Hield to do play together for a few minutes before Nembhard and McConnell check in. In nine-man rotation, Brown could simply straddle minutes with Nembhard and then Haliburton to close the half or game.
Closing games will be interesting with both Nembhard and Hield capable of having an impact that Carlisle won’t want to sit. We saw that often last season.
While Mathruin wouldn’t be in the mix for point guard minutes, any of the guards mentioned above can cover reserve minutes for the Benn. If you are counting, that’s six guards covering point guard, shooting guard and small forward. The roster imbalance remains in the same state we complained about at the end of last season.
In the front court, Nesmith will likely backup Obi Toppin while rookie Jarace Walker finds his way with spot minutes. Jalen Smith appears to have earned the reserve slot behind Myles Turner. That leaves a very valuable big in Daniel Theis out of the mix. Surely there is a trade partner for Theis is he’s not going to get any run in Indy.
Also missing are rookies Walker and Ben Sheppard. Walker had a sporadic preseason but will surely find spot minutes as the season wears on. Same for Sheppard who made open threes and defended as well as anyone, but with Nembhard’s return there is no room for the rook. No doubt Carlisle will turn to Sheppard who can easily slide in as a small forward. Depending on how the season plays out and what roster moves are made before the trade deadline, Shep will need to get some time even if it isn’t HIS time at the start of the season.
Try as I might, putting together an 8-man rotation for say a big playoff game, seems impossible. Without McConnell, we’re down to nine, but who is next? Nembhard or Buddy? I guess Buddy would be the call, but not playing one of the best shooters in the league in an important game seems dicey considering the streaky (at best) three-point shooting among the rest of that rotation. If you look to the front court, Nesmith or Stix would have to be out of the mix. They could go micro small when Turner needs to sit with Nesmith or just have Bruce Brown/Nembhard fill power forward minutes with Nesmith out of the mix.
Yeah, none of that is happening with the current state of this team. There are many huge strides they need to make to balance the rotation before even considering a strong 8-man rotation. Fortunately, working on those strides begins on Wednesday when the Pacers tip off the regular season against the Wizards.
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