The dust has settled from the Trial Blazers’ exit from postseason competition. Free agency, roster construction and the NBA Draft have crept into everyday conversation in Rip City. Before we turn the page on the longest season in the Blazers’ 50-year history, let’s take another look at the players that populated the roster during that journey.
Yesterday’s installment reviewed Anfernee Simons’ second-year contributions. Today’s post looks at rookie forward Nassir Little.
Games: 48 (5 starts) | PTS: 3.6 | REB: 2.3 | FG%: 43.0
Graded as a potential lottery pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, Nassir Little landed in the Blazers’ lap at pick No. 25. Little, who endured an up-and-down season at North Carolina, represented the best of both worlds for President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey: a high-upside player that also plays at a position of need.
Despite a reluctance to lean on rookies, coach Terry Stotts managed to squeeze Little into his rotation to start the year. Through the first two full months of the season, the Orlando native crossed the double-digit minutes threshold on all but three occasions. Little, a player that channels Tasmanian-Devil-like energy when he takes the floor, made an instant impression on his teammates and fans.
Little’s chaotic style is reflected accurately in his per 36 numbers. When looking at his adjusted averages, his 6.8 rebounds, 0.8 steals, 0.9 blocks and 10.8 points speak to his instant impact. Carmelo Anthony’s arrival proved crucial to Portland’s mid-to-late season push, but it would have been interesting to see if Little’s presence inside Stotts’ rotations would have expanded without Melo in the fold.
During the hiatus, Little’s dedication to improvement emerged as a noteworthy storyline. Prior to the restart in Orlando, coach Stotts spoke with The Athletic’s Jason Quick about the rookie’s improvement.
“His shot is looking really good,” Stotts said. “In the two, three months since March 11, he has probably gotten up as many or more shots than anyone on our team. He’s playing with a lot of confidence.”
Unfortunately, Little did not get a chance to show off his growth in Orlando. During a late-July practice, Little took a fall and suffered a concussion. A few weeks later, after working through the steps of the NBA’s concussion protocol, the rookie endured another setback. Prior to the start of their series against the Lakers, the Blazers announced that Little suffered a syncopal episode after participating in an optional shooting exercise.
A potentially prolonged offseason could yield positive results for Little—who has already shown he is committed to improving his game during the league’s downtime. If the Blazers keep their current rotation of forwards intact, Little could face stiff competition for minutes next season. In that scenario, Carmelo Anthony, Trevor Ariza and Rodney Hood would all be competing for roles inside Stotts’ lineups. Of that potential quartet, Little offers the most noteworthy blend of explosive upside and versatility.