The NBA draft is a crapshoot. You honestly do not know what you are going to get from year to year. The current best player in the NBA (Kawhi Leonard) wasn’t drafted in the lottery and was traded on draft day for a player on the backside of their prime. So when a player ranked higher than Zion Williamson entering college falls to you at the 25th pick a few questions might be raised. Why and how did Nassir Little fall to the Blazers at 25?
Nassir Little was a McDonald’s All-American and the second ranked recruit of the 2018 class. He was the All-American game and Jordan Brand Classic MVP, the only other person to do this was LeBron James. Little appeared to be ready to take North Carolina by storm.
That didn’t necessarily happen.
A lot of people wrote Little’s name into the North Carolina starting lineup with a Sharpie, after all this was North Carolina’s highest recruit since Harrison Barnes. Coach Roy Williams said that Little was the most explosive athlete he’s ever coached in his 31 years on the bench.
That did not translate to minutes for the Tar Heels. Little had only been playing basketball since the age of 12 and had yet to pick up on all the natural instincts a player of his caliber would have picked up with a few extra years of seasoning and coaching. It’s evident on the defensive end where Little gets lost during switches and loses his man as he watches the ball at the top of the key. On offense he seems to second guess himself a bit when taking wide open shots. The only time he never second guessed himself is when he was dunking over everyone.
What the film doesn’t show on Little is how much of a gym rat he is. How he was in the gym almost everyday at 5 am with his AAU coach getting up shot after shot or how he’d hound UNC coaches to watch tape with him after games to help him identify areas he slipped up and could improve.
Williams commented he couldn’t recall another player who was more of a student of the game than Little.
What are the Blazers getting in a blue chip prospect that didn’t see more than 20 minutes a night for one of the most elite programs in history?
They are getting an athlete that is fast and long. He might already be the best pure athlete now on the Blazers roster. He’s got an amazing first step, can dunk easily over players that stand over seven feet tall, has the speed to chase about anyone down, and finishes around the rim at all.
Little is also extremely raw. He gets lost on defense quite easily and drops assignments more than a coach would like.
He wants to learn though and he wants to get better. Being in a Portland locker room with someone like Damian Lillard and a hands on coach like Terry Stotts is going to push Little up the ladder faster than a lot of other places he could have landed. He ends up in Phoenix and he’s playing in Germany in a few years, but here in Portland there is a good chance that he realizes his full potential.
WIth Portland’s current roster there is a chance that Little will not see a whole lot of minutes during his rookie year and he might see some G-League time to get him reps. But if the Blazers do not bring back Rodney Hood (which they should) then he might get some minutes as the back up SF behind Harkless.
We won’t know how he fits into the rotation until after free agency is complete, but the Blazers landed themselves an absolute stud.
You won’t have to wait too long to get a look at Little in a Blazers uniform. He takes the floor for the Blazers on July 6th in Vegas Summer League against Utah.