On Wednesday, consensus 5-star small forward recruit Nassir Little announced his intention to play for North Carolina, giving Roy Williams his highest-profile recruiting victory in several years. Little is one of the top wing players in an absolutely stacked wing class, any of whom would have been extremely exciting for UNC. Little in particular, though, has some aspects to his game that make him stand out among his peers, and they fit really well into UNC’s style while potentially adding a new dimension to it.
The first thing that sticks out when you watch Little is his athleticism. He has legitimate head-at-the-rim leaping ability when he’s in space and likes to dunk, giving him real highlight reel potential:
But this isn’t one of those situations where a player can only play above the rim with nobody around. Little can and will get up in traffic and finish over whoever happens to be in front of him. Much like Brice Johnson before him, Little can finish above the rim from within a crowd, through contact, and against players bigger than him.
This promises to give him high efficiency around the rim, which UNC will need after the departures of Kennedy Meeks and Justin Jackson this past year and the impending graduation of Joel Berry, with no proven finisher on the team to take any of their places. On a less technical note, Little’s finishing ability and explosiveness are qualities that a home crowd absolutely loves. They make highlight reels, give meaning to otherwise mostly meaningless games, and get crowds excited. Theo Pinson’s dunk in his return against Florida State, even though UNC had already iced the game, still hasn’t been forgotten.
The really great thing about Little, though, is that he uses his athleticism on both ends of the floor. I’ll get into this more later, but Little is an outstanding defensive player. His athleticism is really more of an accessory to his defensive ability than an integral part of it, but his strength and leaping ability allow him to stand his ground on defense and then contest or block shots constantly. Many players with his athleticism use it as a crutch on defense, hoping it will help them make up for losing position or catch up to a player who has slipped by. Little instead uses it to put a cherry on top of already great defense, and has true shutdown potential because of it.
Nearly every scouting report on Little notes that he is a defensive menace, or a “two-way player,” or something else to that effect. He has the speed and agility to guard smaller guards and the strength to guard post players, making him a legitimate defensive option at positions 1-4. Highlight tapes don’t like showing regular defense, so there isn’t much on the tape to report, but here is part of his scouting report from NBADraftScout.com:
A menace on the defensive end, Little is a hyper-active defender who moves his feet well, gets down in his stance and has quick hands. He can handle almost any defensive assignment and seems to take the match up personally.
I do have one play that shows really impressive defensive potential, though it is just one play on a highlight mixtape:
What impresses me about this play is Little’s commitment to finishing the defensive possession. Not only does he block the shot, but when he comes down, he gets back into position, anticipates the pass, and makes the steal. This shows both his defensive intensity and his versatility as both a shot-blocker and an anticipatory defender.
Little’s offensive game isn’t as developed as his defensive game, by most accounts, but it has improved significantly in the past couple of years. This is the reason for his ability to play on the wing in college; he was primarily a post player before developing his dribbling and shooting enough to play on the perimeter, where he would match up better based on his height and weight. His jump shot is not the strongest part of his game, but it is a legitimate threat, and it looks good, which means that it is likely to be consistent:
While his jump shot is a relatively recent addition to his game, his midrange and post game have been part of his arsenal for his whole career, so he is a reliable, efficient scorer on all three levels. As you can see on this particular jump shot, Little flashes good footwork and change of direction skills, which should translate to other areas of the field. Another positive aspect of Little’s offensive game is his basketball IQ. He operates well within an offense, makes the right passes although his vision isn’t excellent, and understands spacing. He plays an efficient game when he’s not exploding to the rim: he takes high-percentage shots, doesn’t turn the ball over even if his handle is rather basic, and doesn’t stop the ball.
These traits should help him fit right into Roy Williams’ offense. Kenny Williams is much the same way without the athleticism, and he had the best Offensive Plus/Minus on the team in 2017 among wings not named Justin Jackson. Adding Little’s athleticism to that mix gives him crazy potential in the UNC offensive system.
Additionally, his athleticism and ability to pick up perimeter skills rather quickly bode well for his ability to develop his game even further while he is on campus. Little’s floor is already pretty high due to all the things he does well on the court, but unlike many prospects who are described as “high-floor,” his ceiling is extremely high as well. There’s a lot to look forward to about Nassir Little’s future as a Tar Heel.