What to expect from Trail Blazers first-round pick Nassir Little in 2019-20
Not many NBA rookies are lucky enough to get drafted into situations where they’ll get to not only play meaningful minutes right away but also get a chance to show their worth in the NBA playoffs. Luckily for UNC combo forward Nassir Little, while he got drafted a little lower than expected, he might have fallen into the perfect situation being drafted 25th overall to the Portland Trail Blazers.
Little became one of the most hyped prospects in the country prior to last college basketball season, as he put up a combined 52 points in the McDonald’s All-American game and the Jordan Brand Classic, showing flashes of being a potential basketball superstar after winning MVP in that same McDonald’s All-American game.
Despite being hyped heavily coming out of high school, Little couldn’t really find his footing in Raleigh, NC. The former North Carolina Tar Heel was only able to see the floor 18 minutes coming off the bench, averaging 9.8 points and 4.6 rebounds while shooting 52.7 percent from the field.
Measuring in at 6’6″ and 224 pounds with a 7’1″ wingspan, Little possesses the size to compete in the NBA and be a solid defender if he is willing to commit to the craft. While he has the size of an NBA wing, Little’s ideal position in the NBA may be as a small ball 4, where he is able to capitalize on his quickness in face-up opportunities and kick it out to open teammates from three.
This makes Portland an ideal landing spot for Little. While he’ll have to compete with fellow forwards Mario Hezonja and Zach Collins for playing time, the team lost it’s two starting forwards in Mo Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu. Little could be able to thrive in the NBA with superstar point guard Damian Lillard getting him the ball, and talented shooters like C.J. McCollum, Kent Bazemore, and Evan Turner to pass out to for open threes.
Little showed in college that he can do more than just score the ball on offense, as his quickness helps him to spread the floor for teammates and his athleticism and general tenacity allowed him to be one of the best offensive rebounders in the ACC. He doesn’t have a go-to move on offense, but he proved to be capable on spot-ups, pull-up jumpers, post-ups against small guards and sporadic drives to the basket.
In order to keep himself off the bench in the NBA, Little will need to improve as both a defender and as a three-point shooter. The one weakness to his offensive game in college was clearly shooting the deep ball, as he shot a mediocre 26.9 percent on all threes he shot last season. He has a nice looking jumper, and his free throws go in 77 percent of the time, so hopefully with NBA shooting coaches and a drive to be a gym rat, Little can make that weakness a strength.
Little possesses the physical frame to thrive on defense in the NBA as long as he quickly learn Portland’s defensive schemes. He has the foot speed and length to guard both forward spots, but he lacks defensive instincts, only totaling 19 blocks and 19 steals in 36 games last season. Despite these struggles, he brings toughness on the defensive end and having capable shot-blockers like Hassan Whiteside and Jusuf Nurkic behind him should help him with defensive rotations.
He didn’t put up the greatest few games in summer league, debuting against the Pistons to a terrible two-point, three rebounds, -19 point differential in 22 minutes. Little was never able to top four points in the handful of games he played in this summer.
All the potential as a scorer is there for Little, it’s just a matter of if he can tap into it and improve his three-point stroke. If he does that and shows to be capable enough on defense, five points and two-and-a-half rebounds per game in 10 minutes is not out of the question.