The Trail Blazers capitalized on Nassir Little’s slide down the draft board by selecting the former Tar Heels forward at pick No. 25. Little, an explosive 6-foot-6 forward, rocketed up the recruiting ranks prior to committing to North Carolina. Once under coach Roy Williams, Little failed to crack the starting lineup through 36 games. His lack of exposure didn’t deter the Blazers, who greedily scooped up the Florida native before the first round concluded.
Little’s slide out of the lottery range was equally as shocking as Cameron Johnson’s surprise ascension. With that shift in mind, Little did not receive a Blazer’s Edge Draft Profile. Here is a brief look at Little’s vitals.
- Height: 6’6”
- Weight: 224
- Wingspan: 7’1.25”
- Shooting Hand: Right
- Position: SF
- Age: 19
- PTS: 9.8 | Per 40: 21.5
- REB: 4.6 | Per 40: 10.1
- STL: 0.5 | Per 40: 1.2
- FG%: 47.8
- 3P%: 26.9 (52 attempts)
- FT%: 77.0
Blazer’s Edge draft gurus Steve Dewald and Nate Mann will now exchange their thoughts on the Trail Blazers’ rookie.
First off, where did you expect Little to be selected?
Steve: I knew the middle section of this draft class was rife with uncertainty. Each team appeared to covet different perimeter players and there was little consensus outside of the top six. Regardless of that uncertainty, Little was projected to be selected in the lottery by almost every analyst. Cameron Johnson, Darius Bazley and Matisse Thybulle represent an unlikely trio of wings that were selected ahead of Little—setting the stage for the Blazers at No. 25.
Nate: I certainly did not expect Little to fall all the way to the Blazers. Most mock drafts projected him to go at the end of the lottery or just outside of it—definitely not in the final picks of the first round. It seemed assured that he wouldn’t last through the teens.
What part of Little’s game translates best to the NBA? Additionally, how will that fit into coach Terry Stotts’ system?
Nate: Little’s size and well-rounded athleticism should help his defense translate to the NBA. He showed off his speed with a 3.1-second shuttle run and 3.24-second three-quarter-court sprint at the NBA Draft Combine, which allows him to stay in front of guards when defending in space. His 7-foot-1 wingspan combines with a 38.5-inch maximum vertical leap to allow him to guard larger opponents close to the rim.
Steve: Little’s open-floor exploits could be hidden in Portland. Luckily for the Blazers, the former Tar Heels youngster is an underrated on-ball defender. According Synergy Stats, Little surrendered just .545 points per possession in isolation situations. Until he polishes his offense, his work on the defensive end could keep him out of the dog house. Stotts isn’t known for his willingness to play rookies, but Little could sway him in a different direction by limiting mistakes on defense.
On the flip side, what part of Little’s game concerns you the most? Do you think it warranted his massive draft-night slide?
Nate: In my opinion, the most concerning part of Little’s game is his shooting. He attempted 1.4 three-pointers per game and converted just 26.9 percent of them. According to Hoop-Math.com, he made just 34.7 percent of his two-point jump shots. Little has the form and free throw percentage that hint at an ability to improve these numbers. For now, he’ll be yet another Portland forward incapable of knocking down shots consistently.
Steve: Along with his suspect shooting, Little had a tendency of slowing down the flow of North Carolina’s offense. He averaged a paltry 0.7 assists per game to go along with a less-than-ideal 1.3 turnover average. Until Little develops a signature role in half-court sets, he runs the risk of being ignored by opponents.
If you had to guess, when will Little play meaningful minutes?
Nate: His position in the rotation depends on Al-Farouq Aminu and Rodney Hood’s free agency. Without either of them, Little could provide spotty minutes off the bench as a versatile forward that can hustle in transition and provide a spark. If one of the wings returns, Layman will probably inherit the remaining minutes and Little wouldn’t see the court outside of garbage time. In that case, he’ll probably be on the same trajectory as Gary Trent Jr.
Steve: As I mentioned in the worry-related section, Little’s lack offense in half-court sets is worrisome. On the positive side, Little’s favorable free throw percentage paints a positive picture for his potential as a floor spacer.
Little’s draft-night slide should combine with his lack of opportunities at North Carolina to give him a sizable chip on his shoulder. If he can convert that energy into his development, he could blossom into a high-level starter. His upward trajectory could receive a boost from the Blazers’ decisions this summer. A clear path to minutes would give Little a chance to earn valuable in-game experience.
Bonus: Highlight-Worthy Moments
Nate: I can’t resist. Here’s three minutes of Little bullying people and dunking on everyone (via ACC Digital Network).
Steve: Before Little headed to Chapel Hill, he dominated the McDonald’s All-American Game (via Rivals Football & Hoops Recruiting).
Do you agree with Steve and Nate? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.