The inaugural In-Season Tournament has been a rousing success. No team has benefitted more from the platform it's provided more than the Indiana Pacers.
Indiana's first nationally televised games of the season have been In-Season Tournament knockout round matchups against the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks, with Tyrese Haliburton putting on an absolute show for NBA fans all over the world. Haliburton has averaged 26.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 14 assists without a single turnover in those games, staking his claim as one of the best offensive players in basketball.
But it hasn't been Haliburton alone driving the Pacers' success. Indiana sits tied at fifth place in the Eastern Conference alongside the New York Knicks with a 12-8 record, with the seventh-best net rating in the NBA. The Pacers are doing this off the back of their high-flying offense. They have the number one offense in the NBA by a landslide.
There aren't many teams that can stop Indiana, but one team that could might be the Los Angeles Lakers, be the Pacers' adversaries in the In-Season Tournament Final. They have one of, if not the best defensive players in the entire NBA in Anthony Davis. If the Lakers can slow down the the Pacers, that means the Pacers will have to slow down the Lakers, too.
That's why one player in particular looks like a potential X-Factor who can help Indiana get stops and help lead them to victory on Saturday.
The Pacers have been bad on defense this season. That's part of the reason why they score so many points: They have to to win games! Indiana has the third-worst defensive rating in the NBA with only bottom-feeders like the Charlotte Hornets and Washington Wizards being worse in that department. Outside of Myles Turner, Indiana is just not very big positionally and don't have many players who hang their hat on that end of the floor.
One player who does is Aaron Nesmith. Nesmith was Indiana's primary defender on Giannis Antetokounmpo for a lot of their matchup against the Bucks on Thursday. Giannis still had his way, scoring 37 points on 19 shots. But Nesmith at least made him work for it. He also had stints during that game guarding Damian Lillard, who he fared a little better against.
Aaron Nesmith erased him. pic.twitter.com/tpQCtXlFlC
— Indiana Pacers (@Pacers) December 8, 2023
Like most players on the Pacers, Nesmith is also enjoying the best season his career on the offensive end of the floor. He is shooting a career-high 44.3% from beyond the arc on just under four attempts per game. A majority of those are catch-and-shoot threes, fitting while playing alongside a superstar offensive juggernaut like Haliburton. Nesmith has been money on those shots, shooting 43.8% on spot-ups. He ranks 14th in the NBA in three-point percentage on catch-and-shoot threes among players who average at least three such shots per game.
Everyone is going to have to play their part if the Pacers want to take down the Lakers on Saturday. Nesmith will be no exception. Someone has to guard LeBron James while making jumpers on the other end to stretch the Lakers' stout defense. Nesmith can do both. He'll have to if the Pacers want to win the inaugural NBA Cup.