With only one pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, the Portland Trail Blazers did not go into it with as much potential to improve the roster as other teams. However, fresh off a Western Conference Finals berth, they did not have as many needs to fill on their team.
So there the Blazers were with the 25th pick, where Nassir Little, forward out of North Carolina, had fallen into their laps. Little, who had made news on draft day for his slide, originally came into his freshman season at UNC widely viewed as a top-five pick. He was even seen as the No. 2 prospect behind Duke’s RJ Barrett at one point.
Little came out of high school sweeping the All-Star game awards, winning MVP for both the McDonald’s All-American Game and the Jordan Brand Classic. Little flashed on occasion the potential that had him pegged a top-five pick, but he played on a very talented UNC team with the depth chart stacked at forward. Only averaging 18.2 minutes per game, he struggled to find a groove in his team’s perimeter-oriented offense.
Whether Little has a bench role next year with the Blazers or slides into the starting lineup immediately with the potential departure of free agent Al-Farouq Aminu, he projects to fit in well at small forward. He packs an NBA-ready body standing at 6’6” and possessing a 7’1” wingspan, giving him the ability to bully smaller defenders in the paint but also showcasing his perimeter ability against bigger, slower defenders. His great length gives him the potential to mature into a solid defensive contributor.
The Blazers’ 2019-20 stumble in the Western Conference Finals can mostly be contributed to the failures of their starting forwards, which made the team rely too heavily on its dynamic guards. While Aminu and Moe Harkless performed admirably on the defensive end, their offensive performances left the Blazers wanting more. Combined, their offensive numbers read together: 17.1 PPG, 12 RPG, 2.5 APG.
With Little paired alongside Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, and eventually Jusuf Nurkic, he will be put in a system where he can take his time learning the offensive scheme and not have the pressure to produce immediately; prospects like Zion Williamson, Ja Morant and RJ Barrett do not have that luxury. Little will be able to focus on making his rookie impact in transition and flashing his defensive potential.
My career projection for Little is that he will become a solid glue guy at the hybrid small forward/power forward position. I believe his rookie numbers will read: 23-30 MPG, 12 PPG, 3 APG, and 7 RPG. But I believe once he hits his stride in his career, he will produce numbers more closely to: 36 MPG, 15-19 PPG, 4 APG, and 9 RPG.
The Blazers have found their starting small forward of the future.