As many Tar Heels fans may know by now, Nassir Little’s night at the NBA Draft turned out to be a weird, disappointing, anxiety-inducing, but ultimately satisfying night. After being projected as a lottery pick, Little fell all the way down to No. 25 before being drafted by the Portland Trailblazers. Players that were picked ahead of him included players such as his former teammate Cam Johnson, Tyler Herro, Ty Jerome, Romeo Langford, and Grant Williams. Easily the most unusual pick of the draft came from the Phoenix Suns, who traded their sixth overall pick to take Johnson, who was projected to get picked in the early to mid 20s.
Despite the unusual drop down the draft board, Nassir Little landed in what could potentially be the best situation that he could possibly find himself in. As college basketball fans, we love seeing our favorite players getting drafted extremely early in the draft. However, the reality is that players getting drafted in the lottery are likely going to teams that had serious problems the season before, and sometimes expectations become so astronomical that the prospect drafted is expected to become the new face of the franchise (looking at you, Zion Williamson). The reality of Little’s situation, however, is that Portland is an amazing organization for him to land with, as they are already a strong playoff contender, have an established franchise player in Damian Lillard, and have strong enough pieces around him to where he can try to make a name for himself without the pressure of being the savior of the organization. Little being drafted by the Blazers is great news, even if it was outrageously awkward to witness as the draft transpired.
Some of you may be wondering: what do the Blazers and their fans think of drafting Little? Also, what does the future look like for the former Tar Heel? To be perfectly honest, I myself am not equipped to answer these questions, so I decided to find someone who was. I had the chance to speak with Blazer’s Edge’s Steven Dewald about what he thought of the newest acquisition, how Little’s game fits with his new team, and what the future will look like for the Blazer’s as a whole. Enjoy!
1.) What was the reaction around the fanbase when it was announced that the Blazers drafted Nassir Little?
The Blazers fanbase has a ton of crossover with the Oregon Ducks basketball program. Little’s slide definitely started to generate interest once the draft got out of the teens, but the majority of people were closely monitoring Ducks big man Bol Bol. Once the pick arrived with Little still on the board, the excitement was palpable. Physically gifted players at a position of need don’t fall to the late first round often, which made the Blazers’ selection exciting.
2.) What role do you envision that Little will fill for the Blazers?
Portland’s roster is currently comprised of two cores. Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, and Jusuf Nurkic make up a win-now trio. Little’s selection completes a fast-forming group of youngsters. Anfernee Simons, Zach Collins, and Little are set to inherit larger roles after the current starters move past their primes. In the short term, Little’s energy and on-ball defense could earn him minutes as an energetic reserve.
3.) The Blazers made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals this past season. Do you feel like the team drafting Little will help move the needle and get them where they ultimately want to be, which is the NBA Finals? If not, what steps do you think the team must take in order to solidify their position to compete for the NBA title?
The Western Conference’s arms race reached a fever pitch in the aftermath of Golden State’s untimely injuries. The Lakers and Jazz made high-profile moves and Kawhi Leonard is an obvious candidate to switch conferences. With those moves in mind, Little’s acquisition doesn’t exactly “move the needle” for the season ahead. The Blazers lack the flexibility to make a splashy signing and they face tough decisions when it comes to retaining their own free agents. Any hope of a big-time move will come via trade. I expect a quiet summer, but things could get interesting at the trade deadline.
4.) What type of minutes do you envision Little playing when he arrives in Portland?
Head Coach Terry Stotts is notoriously reluctant to play rookies in prominent roles. Typically, players selected outside of the lottery endure a two-year development process before seeing action in meaningful minutes. Little’s lofty pre-draft status could combine with the Blazers’ potential free agent departures to accelerate that timeline. Barring a major injury, most of Little’s contributions should occur behind the scenes this year. The Blazers are one of two teams that don’t have a G-League affiliate, so it could be a while before Little is featured on the court.
5.) Who were some of the other players on the Blazers’ draft board, and do you feel like Nassir Little was the right choice out of those players?
I have a feeling Portland had a North Carolina forward on their realistic target list. That forward wasn’t Little. Instead, it was most likely Cameron Johnson. Outside of Johnson, the Blazers brought in Belmont sharp-shooter Dylan Windler for a pre-draft workout. Windler was selected one position after Little. Along with the options that existed at pick No. 25, the Blazers definitely looked like a team that was trying to trade out of the first round in an attempt to shed salary. Portland’s pre-draft workouts featured players that were selected in the second round as well as undrafted.
As I mentioned earlier, players with Little’s profile rarely fall that far in the draft. It is hard to argue against him landing in Portland.
6.) Given the current composition of the team, what do you think the outlook is for Portland’s 2019-20 season?
Along with the Nuggets, the Blazers will bank on continuity to fill the void created by the Warriors’ injuries. Jusuf Nurkic’s injury rehabilitation will complicate the center rotation, but Portland’s established backcourt should allow them to keep pace until the big fella returns. Lillard and McCollum are firmly in their primes and that should be good enough to finish in front of the majority of teams in the Western Conference. The Blazers can enhance their chances with a significant trade at the deadline.