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Nassir Little surprised to be drafted by Portland, expected to have gone higher

It’s safe to say the Portland Trail Blazers were as shocked as anyone when Nassir Little fell to them late in the first round of the 2019 NBA Draft. Speaking with reporters after Portland ended his stunning draft-night slide at No. 25, the University of North Carolina product said he not only never worked out for the Trail Blazers during the pre-draft process, but didn’t even speak with representatives from the team, either.

Considered a potential top-five pick coming into his freshman season, Little had long ago been resigned to the fact his draft stock took a major hit following his struggles with the Tar Heels. Still, he was broadly expected to be selected in the lottery due to his rare physical gifts, sterling reputation as a high-schooler, and the chance he develops his jumper to become a versatile three-and-D archetype at the next level.

Little averaged 9.8 points and 4.6 rebounds in just 18.2 minutes per game off the bench for the Tar Heels, shooting 47.8 percent from the field and just 26.9 percent from three. Beset by a lack of comfort with the ball in his hands, Little never quite found a position at North Carolina, toggling between both forward spots. Worse, he failed to gain the trust of legendary coach Roy Williams, whose long-time aversion to playing freshman didn’t keep Coby White, drafted seventh by the Chicago Bulls, from starring for the Tar Heels in 2018-19.

Portland, fresh off a surprising berth in the Western Conference Finals, normally isn’t the place for rookies to thrive. But with Al-Farouq Aminu and Rodney Hood set to hit free agency, there’s an outside chance Little, if his shot comes around, does enough to get a real crack at the rotation from coach Terry Stotts heading into his rookie season.