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Andrew Nembhard leaves favorable impression on new Pacer Aaron Nesmith: ‘Pass-first guy, defender, gritty dog.’

Indiana’s Andrew Nembhard takes the ball up the floor during a Summer League game against the Sacramento Kings on Sunday at Cox Pavilion in Las Vegas.  (Courtesy/Andrew Boyd)

LAS VEGAS – Florida and Vanderbilt clashed twice during the 2018-19 SEC basketball season. Aaron Nesmith was the top scorer in the first of those matchups, pouring in 26 points in Vanderbilt’s 66-57 loss. Andrew Nembhard carried that torch when the SEC rivals met two weeks later, scoring 19 points to help Florida secure a season sweep of the Commodores.

Nesmith and Nembhard share SEC roots, they share first and last initials and they share a mutual coach, Roger Powell, who spent four seasons as an assistant Vanderbilt before taking a position at Gonzaga.

As of Monday, the 22-year-old guards also share an NBA locker room. The Indiana Pacers wedged a blockbuster trade into their busy Summer League schedule, sending Malcolm Brogdon to the Boston Celtics in exchange for Nesmith, Daniel Theis, Malik Fitts, Juwan Morgan, Nik Stauskas and a 2023 first-round pick.

Nesmith learned about the trade on a municipal golf course in his home state of South Carolina and is still getting his bearings with the Pacers in Las Vegas. But the third-year NBA player had already gathered enough information about Nembhard – both in college and during Indiana’s 101-87 Summer League blowout of Detroit – to form an educated opinion of the rookie point guard.

“Pass-first guy, defender, gritty dog. I love it,” Nesmith said of Nembhard postgame. “He’s going to be very fun to play with and I think he does a great job controlling the game.”

Nesmith and Nembhard will have plenty of flights, bus rides and opportunities in the locker room to trade stories about Powell, who spent two years with the Gonzaga point guard in Spokane, but as of Tuesday the teammates had only shared memories about college journeys that started in the SEC.

“No, we haven’t talked about Roger yet but we talked about college routes today,” Nesmith said.

One of the fundamental rules of NBA Summer League is to avoid drawing sweeping conclusions about NBA Summer League, but this much seems evident about Andrew Nembhard’s first three games in Las Vegas: the Indiana Pacers have been a stronger unit when the rookie point guard has been on the floor, as opposed to when he hasn’t.

Indiana didn’t need Nembhard to fill up the scoring column on Tuesday at Cox Pavilion and he didn’t produce as much offense as he’s been accustomed to, but the Gonzaga product still played a big role in helping the Pacers lead wire-to-wire in their third Summer League test.

Nembhard scored six points on 2-of-4 shooting, dished out two assists, had three turnovers, pulled down two rebounds and committed four fouls. Even with his modest stat line, Nembhard still managed to finish with a +25 – Indiana’s second-highest +/- behind only Terry Taylor (+27).

“The one thing we talked about today was him picking up the ball full-court,” Pacers Summer League coach Ronald Nored said. “His ability to get into the ball, make other point guards feel him is pretty high-level and he did that really well right from the beginning today. That’s what we talked about, he was our anchor in that, making them feel us.

“Then on the offensive end, he just settles us down, he gets us into things we need to get into, he communicates play. I don’t even call half the plays, I just let him do it and he does it pretty well.”

Nembhard has made three consecutive starts for Indiana in Summer League, logging more than 24 minutes in a 94-84 win over Charlotte, 27 minutes in a 103-96 loss to Sacramento and approximately 22 minutes in Tuesday’s win over Detroit.

Of the four Pacers who’ve started all three games, Nembhard’s 73 minutes played rank second only to Isaiah Jackson, who’s logged 76. Nored said Indiana’s second-round draft pick has been coachable and proactive during the team’s stay in Vegas, communicating ideas and adjustments to his coach before games.

“He loves basketball, that’s the thing I like about him,” Nored said. “He just loves basketball, even texting him before the game today he just has good feedback about what he can do to be better, what we need to do to be better. Because he studies the game and loves the game.”

Indiana has a three-day break between games No. 3 and 4 in Las Vegas. The Pacers, now 2-1, return to the court on Friday to play the Washington Wizards at 6 p.m. (ESPN2) at the Thomas & Mack Center.