The Portland Trail Blazers are receiving rave reviews for their selection of UNC’s Nassir Little with the No. 25 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. Experts are pointing to Little’s upside as a reason to be excited over the pick:
This is good value on Little, who unsurprisingly took a bit of a fall in the draft—many teams weren’t ever really as high on him as it seemed. I do like this for Portland, who get him on the cheap, at a position of need, and get a low-risk shot at developing him into a viable running mate for their stars. Little is unquestionably an NBA-caliber athlete, but he has a ways to go from a feel perspective. He’s certainly gifted enough to deliver a strong return on a pick this late.
Little’s over/under on pick position was 12.5. He went WAY deeper than anyone expected. At this point in the draft, I don’t even care about fit or whatever, you just take the roll of the dice on the guy who was the MVP of the 2018 McDonald’s All-American and Jordan Brand Classic games. A year ago, he was projected to be the No. 2 pick. He’s a good value here, even though he didn’t make an impact at UNC.
Once regarded as a top-five prospect, Nassir Little’s offensive shortcomings limited his impact for the Tar Heels and sent him tumbling down the draft board. But his physical gifts remain enticing, especially for a Portland Trail Blazers team that has long been hunting for star forwards.
Who’s the real Little? Is he the player who set the hoops world ablaze at the 2018 McDonald’s All-American Game or the one who never started and averaged fewer than 20 minutes at North Carolina?
Little has the perfect physical tools for a positionless league, and it’s possible the Association will bring out the best of him. With a better-spaced floor, his explosive athleticism could shine on the offensive glass and off-ball cuts.
But if he was anything close to a finished product, he would’ve logged real playing time at UNC. Instead, too much ball-watching, tardy rotations, erratic shooting and head-scratching decision-making left him buried behind players with nowhere near his natural abilities.
His underdeveloped skills would’ve made him a major risk if he landed in the lottery, but getting him 25th overall could be one of the night’s biggest steals.
Little was projected to get drafted ahead of Zion Williamson in the preseason. While Williamson soared at Duke, Little got lost in a deep frontcourt rotation at North Carolina. He struggled to find a consistent role all season, underwhelming as a shooter and showing an inability to make quick decisions with the ball.
Still, Little has a great frame for a combo forward and could fulfill some of his promise as a recruit if his shooting ability comes around. Little will need time to mature, but this pick could pay off down the line for a Portland team that badly needs a talent infusion at the forward spots.
Matthew Giles, Washington Post: No grade
The freshman’s lone season at Chapel Hill was marred by inconsistency — both in terms of playing time but also how he then performed once he earned those minutes. Standing 6-foot-6, Little was at his best in transition (scoring 1.14 points per fast break, the team’s second-best rate) and corralling offensive boards and then converting those caroms (he grabbed more than 9 percent of UNC’s misses and scored 1.24 points per putback, a rate which ranked within DI’s top 100). That was the extent of Little’s production as a Tar Heel — whenever his game expanded beyond his comfort zone as a rim-running big, the results weren’t encouraging, and his freshman season didn’t justify the hype of his commitment to Coach Roy Williams. His arrival didn’t intensely alter the program, but whenever he took the court, his game would improve ever so slightly.