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UNC basketball: Looking at where Nassir Little fits in

Could the projected lottery pick come off the bench for the Tar Heels?

2018 McDonald’s All American Game Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

It’s possible that the Tar Heels’ most talented player next season will come off the bench. Nassir Little is the most hyped up recruit Roy Williams has had since Harrison Barnes, and he’s already projected in the top five of most mock drafts for 2019. Little’s NBA potential is undeniable, but it doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll secure a starting spot in what could very well be his only season in Chapel Hill.

Carolina returns three starters, all of whom will be seniors, and must find someone to fill the void at point guard. That leaves one starting spot open, and Roy Williams could return to a traditional two-big lineup by inserting Sterling Manley or Garrison Brooks, which means Little may end up as the sixth man, at least to start the season. Regardless, though, he figures to make a significant impact next season.

Little is a six-foot-seven, 215-pound small forward from Orange Park, Florida. His game hit another level during his junior season at Orlando Christian Prep and his stock has skyrocketed ever since. He’s currently listed as the No. 3 overall player in the class of 2018 according to 247sports.

Little showed out at both the McDonald’s All-American game and the Jordan Brand Classic, winning an MVP award in each event. These performances cemented himself among the top players in his class.

The Tar Heels haven’t had a player quite like Little in a while. Aside from the fact that he could be just the fourth one-and-done player to ever come through Chapel Hill, Little possesses a rare combination of length and athleticism. His seven-foot-one wingspan and large frame make him difficult to match up with one-on-one. He can post you up, he can take you off the dribble, and his jumper has improved immensely as of late. If Little can knock down shots consistently at Carolina, he will be a nightmare to defend.

One of the best things about Little is how much pride he takes in his defensive prowess. Typically, it’s easy for players with natural abilities like his to get lazy on that side of the ball, but Little feeds off of his defense. Of course, all of the measurables that allow him to be so effective offensively are also what make him such a ferocious defender. He’s got the lateral quickness to stay in front of smaller defenders and the strength to bang around with big guys down low. When he gets scored on, he takes it personally, which can be seen in these two sequences with Cam Reddish during the Jordan Brand Classic:

It will be interesting to see how Roy Williams utilizes Little in the upcoming season. As mentioned earlier, there isn’t exactly a ton of wiggle room in the starting lineup, but it’s hard to imagine a player with his talent sitting for too long. Given how last year ended, it may seem smarter to get away from the small lineup. Still, Little could potentially overtake Pinson’s role in that lineup and even add the shooting touch that was missing from Pinson’s game.

Regardless of who starts, Little’s versatility should allow for some really fun lineups and another entertaining season of North Carolina basketball.