Portland Trail Blazers: 5 bold predictions for rest of the offseason

PORTLAND, OR - APRIL 16: Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers fires up the crowd during the second half of Game Two of the Western Conference quarterfinals against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the 2019 NBA Playoffs Moda Center on April 16, 2019 in Portland, Oregon. The Blazers won 114-94. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images) (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
PORTLAND, OR - APRIL 16: Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers fires up the crowd during the second half of Game Two of the Western Conference quarterfinals against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the 2019 NBA Playoffs Moda Center on April 16, 2019 in Portland, Oregon. The Blazers won 114-94. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images) (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images) /
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Portland Trail Blazers
Nassir Little #9 of the Portland Trail Blazers poses for a portrait during the 2019 NBA Rookie Photo Shoot (Photo by Sean Berry/NBAE via Getty Images) /

4. Nassir benefits from NBA workout regimen

Putting it plainly, Nassir Little should have been better last year. As a freshman at the University of North Carolina, big things were expected of Little. Despite coach Roy Williams’ infamous policy against giving first-year players big minutes, Nassir was supposed to be too good to resist. After all, he was a consensus top-five projected pick for a reason.

And then it all fell apart. Understandably so. It can be a real difficult obstacle both mentally and physically to accept a lesser role on the court after you’ve spent your entire life as the best player on the court. Overcoming that mental block is something that holds back even some of the most gifted players from ever reaching their full potential (Andrew Wiggins, anyone?)

Little only saw the court 18.2 minutes per game in his one year with the Tar Heels, never once cracking the starting lineup. This appeared to disrupt his rhythm and hurt his overall performance. For that reason, Nassir slid down big boards leading up to the 2019 NBA Draft. But surely he was too good to slip out of the lottery, right?

Wrong. Apparently other contenders weren’t willing to take on someone who was seen as a long-term project, and instead opted for limited ceiling role players that could immediately contribute. But I’d wager that last year’s performance and subsequent dip in the draft was enough of a wake-up call to help him realize the gravity of the situation.

Little’s draft stock (and payday) won’t depend on how many points he’s scoring next year, or the year after that. He won’t have to worry about his individual performance each night and how that could affect his future. Nassir is now given the chance to grow and thrive with a contender that doesn’t need him to step up each night.

Stotts can be the sculptor that carves a masterpiece out of Little’s enormous granite block of natural talent. Getting him to buy into the system here in Portland and focus on developing is something other lottery teams could not offer, and why falling on draft night may have ironically saved his career in advance.