It’s been a couple months since the NBA draft, yet with the NBA in the middle of its August-September doldrums, there still hasn’t been much a chance to see the rookie class in action yet. Portland mostly received rave reviews for their selection of Nassir Little with the 25th overall pick back in June, and there’s been some hope that he could help the Blazers out as soon as this season. Eric Griffith wrote just over a month ago about how Little, despite the talk of being a “steal” by virtue of his dropping to 25, is not really projected to produce more than normal based on recruiting rankings. However, another way to look at it is – what have other recent 25th picks done in their rookie seasons, and is it likely Little will be much different? Here’s a quick look at some (very) basic stats from 25th picks over the past decade in their rookie seasons alone.
The Past Decade of 25th NBA Draft Picks’ Rookie Seasons
Like most of the draft, this crop is a mixed bag. One player hasn’t made it to the NBA (and might never), two of them (Dominique Jones and Brice Johnson) barely played in the NBA, and three more looked promising at one point but busted out fairly quickly (Roddy Beaubois, MarShon Brooks, Tony Wroten). Only two are unequivocal successes: Clint Capela and Reggie Bullock. Considering how late in the 1st round, a 20% hit rate with two more still at least somewhat up in the air isn’t bad at all.
Just looking at the rookie seasons, however, makes things even more confusing. Only two of the rookies (Beaubois and Brooks) had real roles in their first year in the NBA, and neither amounted to much after. None of the rest even cracked the paltry 500-minute level. Meanwhile, the most successful of the bunch, Capela, played among the least in his rookie season. As always, it’s hard to read much into rookie seasons barring complete complete success or disaster (think Luka Doncic or Anthony Bennett), and even those can sometimes turn around (Michael Carter-Williams and Austin Rivers, for worse and for better respectively). These guys are young, and one season doesn’t write a book. However, one thing is clear: 25th picks in recent years have not played much to start their careers.
Will Little be any different? From a fit perspective, the Blazers don’t seem like a team where Little will get much time early on. Coach Terry Stotts generally hasn’t played rookies huge minutes (excepting Damian Lillard). Zach Collins got a decent chunk of playing time right away, but the Blazers were thinner at the big men positions then than they are at wing now. Speaking of, the Blazers are a veteran, postseason-hardened team with aspirations to contend, and they have a handful of wings who would seem to be more ready for minutes than Little: Rodney Hood, Kent Bazemore, Anthony Tolliver, and Mario Hezonja, certainly, but even Gary Trent Jr. might be in line too going into his second season. Only Hood and Bazemore are sure bets to receive significant minutes, but Little will have to scrap to get playing time, for sure.
Finally, the biggest bet against Little getting rookie minutes was his unreadiness for big minutes even at the college level. Sure, Roy Williams doesn’t like to play freshmen (though apparently Coby White was fine), and Little was not given ideal circumstances to thrive. That doesn’t change the fact that he was a non-threat from deep (26.9% on 1.4 attempts), a miserable playmaker (0.7 assists to 1.3 turnovers) and looked lost on defense much of the time. Yes, he had flashes of great play, and has an NBA-ready body, but very little (heh) of his time at UNC suggests he’s prepared for rotation minutes in the NBA right now.
Again, it’s not really an indictment on Little if he doesn’t play much this season. Capela (and Bullock, to a lesser extent) have had good NBA careers and didn’t receive much playing time their rookie seasons. Little is on a solid team behind veteran players, and is extremely young. However, recent draft history and Little’s own play should make fans cautious of expecting anything from him this upcoming season. 25th picks simply haven’t played much (or played well) their rookie seasons for a decade, and nothing about Little suggests he will be any different. It’s not a bad thing, it just is what it is.