Alright, before we start let’s get this out of the way: we all know what the Bahamas trip was. The Heels played in two exhibition games against two opponents that were meh and flat-out bad in that order. There is nothing of high value that you can take from these games involving the stats sheet, where players who normally don’t do much did, and most importantly, who started. Did I get all of the “it doesn’t matter” isms out of the way? Hopefully I did.
With all of that said, there is one thing that was rather noticeable in both games that we could take out of this. See, the thing about these types of games is that while you can’t put much stock into what typically excites fans, there are very “boring” things that you can take out of games like these. Specifically, there are things that you could take away from seeing how the incoming freshmen did, as it was their first taste of college action. One still has to read between the lines, yes, but there are things that players are going to do regardless of who is on the other side of the ball from them. This is where Nassir Little comes in.
Nassir Little is a projected top-five pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, and by now is known for the guy who showed up virtually everybody that participated in the 2018 McDonald’s All-American game. He is in the same atmosphere as those other three players in Durham that have been getting a lot of attention, which will likely set the stage for what will be one of the more interesting “our guy vs. your guy” storylines in the rivalry this year (I am predicting that RJ Barrett will be their best player). With all of the attention and expectations, you would expect him to do as much as he can when he can, right? If we are to go off of his play in the Bahamas, the answer is no.
What we actually saw from Nassir Little this past weekend, with the limited footage that we saw, is that Nassir Little is taking his time and playing within Roy Williams’ system. This was first pointed out following the first game by Inside Carolina, who were in the Bahamas for the event:
“There were times in Friday’s game where it seemed like Little was capable of taking over, but he never worked outside of the offensive system, scoring 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting. He did commit a team-high six turnovers, although his soaring one-handed jam in transition makes such miscues easy to overlook.”
The story in the second game was extremely similar to the first game, only this time Little managed to have zero turnovers for the game. He finished game two with 11 points on 4-5 shooting, three rebounds, two assists, and one block. Little was on the court for about 13 minutes in the first game, and 14 minutes in the second game. If we wanted to have fun with numbers, Little averaged around 30 points per 40 minutes in both games. As pointed out earlier, these numbers mean next to nothing in an exhibition game. Though hey, numbers are fun, right?
When looking at what he was able to do during his time on the court, it is clear that Nassir indeed could’ve taken over the game at any given time. Brandon Huffman is a great example of what could have happened, as he imposed his will on a struggling StarSports team and scored 37 points and 20 rebounds. Is Huffman wrong for doing this? Of course not, although one could argue that it was disrespectful in the best way possible. The point is Little’s willingness to take his time, learn/execute what Roy wanted him to do, and to let the game come to him is something that we don’t see a lot from a projected top-five lottery pick. If you want a great example, you can look no further than a certain player down Tobacco Road that ESPN hyped up ad nauseam all weekend. Little could’ve easily turned this game into the McDonald’s All-American game part two, and the fact that he did not shows that he is a freshman with a level of maturity that Williams has to love.
Another reason this is so important is because this year’s team is so talented. Starting from the top, Luke Maye, Kenny Williams, and Cameron Johnson are a trio of impact players that will undoubtedly be focal points on opponents’ scouting reports. When those players go to the bench during games, the drop off in talent likely won’t be what it was last year — Sterling Manley, Garrison Brooks, Seventh Woods, and Brandon Robinson are just a few players that should find themselves in bigger roles this November. When you factor Little (and the other two freshmen) into the picture, learning how to play team basketball after being “the man” in high school is important in helping the team reach its ceiling as soon as possible. If Nassir isn’t completely there yet, he’s certainly as close to it as one could hope for.