Nassir Little - North Carolina
Small Forward, 6’6, 224 lbs, 19 years old
47.8 FG%, 26.9 3P%, 77% FT%
18.2 MIN 9.8 PTS 4.6 REB 4.6 AST 0.5 STL 0.5 BLK 1.3 TOV
To make it in the NBA players need to have either elite skill or athleticism. Nassir Little brings elite athleticism and size at the wing that will make him a potentially high level defender in the NBA. Some have even compared him to a previous boom/bust candidate a few years ago: Kawhi Leonard.
Nassir Little only played 18 minutes a game as a freshman at North Carolina while coming off the bench.Some may say that’s the way Roy Williams at UNC rolls. He makes players earn it. However, teams like the Utah Jazz may remember young high upside guys like Tony Bradley who didn’t pan out at all. Depending on whether you are looking at the glass half full or half empty will determine how you feel about Little’s potential.
One thing that may have limited his progress was being behind Cameron Johnson on the depth chart. Cameron Johnson is a projected fringe lottery pick and upperclassman who can shoot the ball really well.
Little was a highly touted prospect when he committed to UNC and it’s easy to see why when you look at his physical tools. Little is the prototypical NBA wing with solid NBA measurements—good length and heigh—with explosive athleticism.
Because of the tools and athleticism, when focused, Little can lock down whoever he is defending on the wing. He’s also able to switch all over the floor. He can keep up with quicker guards and his strength allows him to guard bigs in the post.
Little is also a constant threat to finish lobs at the rim with his leaping ability and strength.
For all his physical gifts, Little showed a surprising lack of feel for the game, and skill.
Little’s game on offense is almost completely based on going to the rim and trying to out-athlete the defender. That can work at times in college but in the NBA that won’t work. It’s also troubling that Little didn’t seem to pick up the game very quickly in college. What happens when he enters the NBA where players are quicker, faster and stronger.
Little’s shooting also leaves a lot to be desired. Hitting just 26 percent from three on 1.4 attempts per game, combined with a lack of offensive understanding, it makes you wonder how he’ll stay on the floor against NBA defenses.
Q&A with Brandon Anderson from Tar Heel Blog
Want someone with a bit more expertise? You got it. I talked with Brandon Anderson from SB Nation’s North Carolina site Tar Heel Blog about Nassir Little’s strengths, weaknesses, and how he’d transition to the NBA. Here’s what he had to say.
What strengths of Nassir Little will translate well to the NBA?
Nassir Little’s biggest strength would likely be his defense. During his time at Carolina, he was able to come into the game and guard the three and four with quite a bit of success, mostly due to his great footwork and this length. Another one of his big strengths is also his athleticism — in the NCAA Tournament, we saw his ability to to play at the rim in full display, as he was virtually unstoppable before coming down with flu-like symptoms prior to playing Auburn. As far as the NBA goes, I feel like every positive he had in college will be that much better in the NBA, primarily because of how differently the game is played. It suits him well, and it’ll be exciting to see how his game is elevated.
What weaknesses of Little will need to be improved in the NBA?
Little’s primary weakness during his time at UNC would be his jumper, but it was kind of a weird situation. During his high school career, as well as the McDonald’s All-American game and the Jordan Brand Classic, Little’s jumper looked really good. Once he got to Chapel Hill, he wasn’t able to accomplish much in that department, but there’s a lot of videos out now of his summer workouts and his shot looks good. So it’s one of those “this didn’t look great in college, but we’ll have to wait and see how this goes” situations when it comes to that aspect of his game.
Another weakness that falls into a similar category would be his perimeter defense. If I’m being completely honest, I don’t think that it’s anything that he’s doing wrong, but for one reason or another he struggled against shooters in a few games at UNC for one reason or another. Overall he’s a very good defender, and I think the NBA will suit him better in that department just because of how he’ll be expected to play defense (as opposed to how Roy Williams liked to have his guys play perimeter defense), but it’s definitely something that’ll be worth keeping an eye on as well.
What role do you see Little being in the NBA?
I see Little starting off as either a much-needed starter for a team lacking any kind of solid small forward, or a sixth man off the bench that will be able to contribute big-time minutes. Long-term, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Little become one of the better players in the NBA, as he is so physically gifted, is very smart, and has the killer instinct that is needed to succeed in the pros. He’s stated in interviews that he hangs his hat on his defense, and I think that’s a great mentality to have for a rookie looking to get as many minutes as possible. If he keeps that same thought process while improving his offensive game, he’ll be a very very good player for whichever team drafts him.
Would you consider Utah a good landing spot for him?
I think the Jazz could be a lucrative spot for Nassir Little to land in. There’s no small forward for the Jazz that leaps off of the page as someone that will bury him on the depth chart, and I think players like Crowder, Mitchell, and Ingles are good players to be surrounded by. I’m particularly a fan of Mitchell’s, and I’m impressed by how well his NBA career has gone so far. Should Little still be on the board when it’s Utah’s turn to pick, I think he’d be a huge get for the organization.