As Brandon broke down in detail on Monday, Coby White’s play has generated the lion’s share of the attention paid to UNC’s three first-rounders this season. But for Cameron Johnson and Nassir Little, the start to 2019-20, while somewhat more under the radar, has been an interesting one as well. Raise your hand if this sounds familiar: so far, Cameron Johnson has been quiet, effective, and underrated, while Nassir has been anonymous at times, and flashing brilliance and potential when given the chance. Go figure.
Let’s check in with how Cam and Nas are faring thus far:
When Cam went #11 to the Suns (who traded down from the 6th pick for the 11th and Dario Saric), the jaws of everyone outside of Tar Heel Nation hit the floor. Well, actually some Tar Heel jaws dropped as well:
The pick was derided by some, but those of us who were privileged enough to watch Cam for two seasons in Chapel Hill knew that this was merely a criminally underrated player getting his just due. The Phoenix Suns knew exactly what they were doing when they snagged him at eleventh: with playmakers like Ricky Rubio and Devin Booker in the backcourt and big men Deandre Ayton and Aron Baynes hammering the interior, what they Suns needed was shooting. Because of this, they went and got perhaps the most ready-made shooter in the class.
So far, Cam has been an efficient contributor off the bench, averaging 6.9 ppg and 2.6 rpg in 14 minutes per game. He is doing so on 48.6% shooting from the floor and 40.9% from three. There are lingering questions, just as there were in college, about his lateral quickness to stay in front of speedy wing players on the perimeter, but he has displayed the same hustle and intelligence that made him a favorite (and a star) in Chapel Hill.
His best performance of the season so far came on Sunday against the Brooklyn Nets:
What I wouldn’t give for another year of that jumper.
Cam finished with 15 points on 6-10 shooting (3-5 from 3-pt) to go with 6 rebounds, two assists, and two blocks. For the second straight game he logged more than 19 minutes of playing time, and that figures to only go up so long as he continues to the shoot the ball as he has. The Suns are now 6-4 after a 123-115 to the Lakers in Phoenix last night.
The start to the season was not the one that Nassir Little surely hoped for when he dropped to the Portland Trail Blazers at #25. The high-character, high-effort player that we loved in Tar Heel blue has had to once again exercise patience with his playing situation.
Nassir only saw the floor for two total minutes (all coming against Sacremento) in the first eight games of the season. Blazers head coach Terry Stotts has described Nas as a “work in progress” but has praised his effort and hustle. However, with the injuries suffered by Portland’s roster, there have recently been more minutes available in the Blazer frontcourt. Mario Hezonja and Anthony Tolliver have been used in the starting position and seen the bulk of the minutes, but they have been woeful in those expanded roles and Nas got his chance against the Nets last week (what is it about the Nets?):
Little was a shot of energy off the bench throughout his time on the floor, attacking the basket, playing active defense, and hunting rebounds. Stotts was enthusiastic about his impact following the game and our friends over at Blazers Edge felt that it entitled him to a larger role.
Nassir was greeted by the Portland fans with a lot of enthusiasm upon his drafting, many hoping that he’d be the replacement to the departed Al-Farouq Aminu. The comparisons are easy to see: they have a similar pro-ready body type, a high motor, a jump shot that needed work but could improve with time, and a strong work ethic. Aminu, however, had an extra year in college to grow his game and Portland’s conundrum is straightforward: Do they expand Nassir’s minutes and develop him on the floor in competition? Or do they develop him in practice and limit his role in games until they’re fully satisfied?
Whatever their decision, you didn’t have to watch Nas all of last year to know that he’s itching to see the floor some more.