After two years of learning the NBA’s ropes, Portland Trail Blazers forward Nassir Little positioned himself for a breakout-type season in 2021-22.
Through both per game statistics and percentages, the former North Carolina Tar Heel is producing career-high numbers across the board. In a recent deep dive, Spencer Davies of Basketball News took a look into the reasons why.
As noted, Little is shooting at the highest percentages of career from 2-point range (61.5%), 3-point range (38.5%), and even at the charity stripe (83.3%). But ask the Blazers’ coaching staff about what’s made Little’s development so gratifying, and they’ll tell you that his motor and ambition haven’t wavered even when his shot attempts or percentages have been down. Davies notes this by mentioning a conversation Little had with head coach Chauncey Billups about two focal points in 2021-22: offensive rebounding and a high-level of energy.
“He’s accepting everything. All the coaching that we give him,” Billups said. “Very coachable. I think a lot of players in the league, especially young guys, when their shots are not going or when they’re not getting shots, their enthusiasm changes. They don’t play as hard. I told him very early on, ‘We don’t know. You might get two shots tonight, you might get eight, depending on how the game is flowing. That can’t change how hard you play, how focused you are. And he’s done a good job with that.
“I think it’s something that you expect from him. When you see a guy playing that hard, that’s how you build trust. You know that you’re gonna be able to trust him every time you put him out there. He’s gonna play extremely hard, he’s gonna give you all he has. He doesn’t have off nights with that. You can have off nights shooting and this and that. When you’re playing hard, you don’t have off nights with that part of it. So that’s something that as a coach, you love to have.”
Through those efforts, Little has become a rotation fixture, nearly doubling his minutes per game from a season ago. In the process, he’s become an anomaly at his position as one of the NBA’s best offensive rebounders. As Davies brings out, Little has found a way to succeed in both playing alongside the Blazers star guards and as a part of one of the NBA’s most efficient, hustle-minded second units.
All told, the third-year forward is averaging 7.2 points, 5.1 rebounds, 0.5 steals, and 0.6 blocks per game in 20.7 minutes of play. Over the rest of Davies’ article, he hits further on the Blazers’ bench and their mentality, how Little has helped the Blazers through a tough early-November stretch, and an outlook on Portland going forward. The link to that can be found here.