Earlier this week, we took a look at freshman star Coby White and what teams looking for a point guard in the NBA Draft could expect from him. To continue our look at the Tar Heels that will have their names called in the NBA Draft in a few weeks, let’s take a look at the freshman that was a top-five prospect going into his freshman year, Nassir Little.
For Tar Heel fans, we all know the story of Little’s college career, and how he rose like a phoenix during the NCAA Tournament before coming down with an illness that caused him to struggle mightily in their loss against Auburn. For those that might not be as familiar, Little spent his freshman season playing off of the bench due to Cameron Johnson’s high level of play all season long. He was a sixth man for the team in every sense of the word, often playing just as many minutes as some of the starters. While it took a while to put it all together during his lone college season, Little did enough to prove that he is a very good player, and that he does indeed have a bright future in the NBA going forward.
Let’s take a deeper look at Little, and what we can expect from him in the Association.
Height w/shoes: 6’6
Height w/o shoes: 6’4 1⁄2
Wingspan: 7’1 1⁄4
Body Fat: 5.9%
One of the best parts of Nassir Little’s game is not only how aggressive he is on defense, but how willing he is to guard the toughest assignments on the court. His size and length as a small forward can cause some frustration for whoever he’s defending, though this also means that he was able to hang with bigger players as well. Roy Williams’ willingness to play him at the four spot has given him a good amount of experience guarding someone arguably bigger and stronger than him, and rarely did he show any glaring struggles in doing so.
Offensively, Nassir Little is one of the most athletic and explosive players ever to play for Carolina in the Roy Williams era. A large part of his offense this past season came at the rim, as he began to figure out how to get exactly what he wanted when he wanted by the time tournament time hit. Given how college defense is played, it’ll be really exciting to see how Little’s game transforms into something greater in the NBA, as the more frequent one-on-one matchups will give him a chance to put a number of players on posters. The best example of how dominant he can be in the paint is the NCAA Tournament game against Washington, when he scored 20 points off of 8-11 shooting.
While Little had a good amount of upside by the time he finished his college career, there are still some questions that will need to be answered once he steps foot on a NBA court for the first time. However, the weird thing about some of his weaknesses is that they really could be less prevalent at the next level, as the system at Carolina may have been to blame a bit, which he alluded to a few weeks ago during the combine. His comments got taken completely out of context, but also nothing he said was wrong: there are things that he was asked to do that weren’t part of his natural game, and that’s okay. With that said, let’s break down what he struggled with during the 2018-19 season.
One interesting weakness that might not be so much of a weakness at all is how often Little was scored on from the perimeter. When looking at the film, it was a bizarre situation where he wasn’t necessarily in the wrong spot every time, but it seems like he didn't have as good of luck stopping shooters as he did opponents that played within the arc. One reason for that may be how Roy Williams likes to defend the perimeter, where usually if the ball is on one side of the floor it means that the defender on the opposite end is sagged closer to the ball handler and away from their man. The result of this is that if the ball is moved around the perimeter quick enough — or if the opponent can toss a pass clear across the court — the defender that sagged off of his man all of the sudden has to race to close out on his man, leaving for some easier shots.
With all of that said, his lack of success defending the perimeter has to be taken with a grain of salt, and it will be one of the more interesting things to keep an eye on when he gets into the league. Remember: he is a really good defender overall, and sometimes really weird things happen during a college basketball season. His former UNC teammate Kenny Williams can attest to that.
Another struggle of Little’s during his time at Carolina was his ability to create shots for himself. While he became very good at getting to the rim and producing offense that way, he struggle to create scoring opportunities with his jumper. This is glaringly obvious when looking at his three-point percentage, which was 26.9% at the end of the year. From everything we’ve seen and heard, he’s been working hard on his shot, and a video that was filmed during combine drills shows that his work is starting to pay off.
North Carolina's Nassir Little shooting it well in the NBA Combine drills. pic.twitter.com/fSRKJrZycg— Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) May 16, 2019
Physically, Nassir Little is the most physically/athletically ready players coming out of Carolina, and is perhaps one of the most physically NBA-ready players in the entire draft. His explosiveness, aggressiveness, and desire to be better than anybody that is in front of him will go a long way in making sure he has a successful NBA career.
Depending on how the NBA Draft shakes out, it’s a reasonable possibility that we could see Nassir Little start right away depending on which team drafts him. One team that comes to mind is the Atlanta Hawks, who currently have Taurean Prince as their starting small forward. However, I could see Nassir Little becoming a very productive player coming off of the bench as a sixth or seventh man as well. This is all, of course, referring to his rookie season. Long-term, Little has the ceiling of becoming one of the better players in the NBA. If he’s able to prove that he still has as much versatility on offense as he did during high school, he may become one of the most dangerous rookies we see this fall.