Entering the 2019-20 season, fans of the Portland Trail Blazers probably weren’t expecting to see much of first-round draft pick Nassir Little. The one-and-done North Carolina Tar Heels product was viewed as a project, buried in the depth chart behind the likes of Zach Collins, Anthony Tolliver and Skal Labissiere.
However, due to an incredible rash of injuries, the rookie was thrust into the rotation in mid-November, even making three starts. He performed admirably, but has seen his role reduced more and more since the signing of Carmelo Anthony—partly due to injury—and has logged just a combined nine minutes over the team’s last three games.
This week on Blazer’s Edge Radio, host Ryne Buchanan argued that with the losses mounting, playing time for the now-healthy Little should be prioritized ahead of under-performing veterans like Tolliver and Mario Hezonja in an effort to help further his on-court development for the coming seasons. With the team well below .500—and no sign of things turning around—it’s time for the rotations to get younger.
This isn’t a white flag of surrender, it’s simply better preparing yourself for the future in a season marred by injuries to key players. It also doesn’t necessarily abandon hopes for the playoffs, as with the bench veterans not getting the job done, it’s hard to imagine the second unit getting worse by relying primarily on younger players. If anything, it offers hope for improvement in the coming months.
In addition to playing a bigger role in the team’s long-term plans than Hezonja or Tolliver, Little has shown that he has earned the right to consistent court time due to his relentless energy and improving defense. It will be hard for him to find a rhythm without any kind of significant role. While it still makes sense to start Anthony, there’s no reason Nas shouldn’t be his direct backup and contribute 15-20 minutes a night off the bench, alongside the likes of Anfernee Simons and Gary Trent Jr.
For the Blazers, the goal for the remainder of what has been a snake-bitten season should be to continue to develop their young prospects in an attempt to figure out who will fit best in the fold in the coming seasons, as the team gets healthier and starts to look like what it’s supposed to. Simons and Trent are currently playing significant minutes, it’s time for Little to join them.
Be sure to tune in to Blazer’s Edge Radio every Tuesday at 12 p.m. PT. You can access the show at 107.1 FM in the Portland area or worldwide online at xray.fm.
Catch an archived version of this week’s episode here.