Portland Trail Blazers: What to expect from Nassir Little next season?

Nassir Little, Portland Trail Blazers (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
Nassir Little, Portland Trail Blazers (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images) /
Nassir Little, Portland Trail Blazers, Utah Jazz
Nassir Little, Portland Trail Blazers, Utah Jazz (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images) /

The Portland Trail Blazers selected Nassir Little with the 25th pick in the 2019 NBA Draft to be their wing of the future. Most draft analysts graded the acquisition as a steal. Little may have been raw in his freshman year at North Carolina, but the potential still shined through in an up-and-down season for the Tar Heels.

Now, two years later, Little has had little opportunity to prove himself and display his growth in the NBA. He played the same amount of games in year two as he did his rookie year, started less, and averaged just two additional minutes in his sophomore campaign.

Coach Terry Stotts has been shown the door and general manager Neil Olshey has been on record as a believer that the current Blazers roster is capable of more than it’s achieved. If we’re to believe the Portland GM, it’s reasonable to suspect that Little will be more utilized in the coming season.

Nassir Little hasn’t been properly deployed or assessed

It’s ironic that one of the biggest needs for the Blazers last year was another 3-and-D wing aside from Robert Covington, yet they had one wasting away on the bench all season. Little is not a perfect 3-and-D prototype, but even as an unfinished product, he has the requisite skills to contribute as one.

Last season, Little shot 35 percent from deep overall and 38 percent on catch-and-shoot opportunities. He was rarely used as a corner spot-up shooter, even though he hit half of his six attempts from the right corner for the season.

Ultimately, Nas is expected to be a lot more than a 3-and-D wing. He’s built like a firetruck, capable of locking down any wing and finishing over and through the defenders unfortunate enough to be in his path. He’s been a number one option on offense for years before entering the league. Little has the potential to be a two-way star.

To expect him to be one right away or not see floor-time at all is a flawed method of thinking, though. The Blazers should have let him develop organically by using him as a 3-and-D wing off the bench, averaging somewhere between 16-20 minutes a night. With that consistent playing time, he can then find spots to attack and do a little more when needed. It was ridiculous to expect him to develop on his own without consistent reps against NBA game speed.

The worst part is that even though he was never asked to be a regular contributor, the Portland Trail Blazers never gave him run in the G-League either. Through two season, he’s played just over 1,200 minutes as a professional, the equivalent of a half season for a full-time starter, with one summer league appearance. If the Blazer weren’t going to let him wet his feet in the NBA, they should have allowed him to run rampant in the G-League.

Nassir Little still showed his promise as a potential cornerstone

Despite inconsistent opportunity, Little still put up some impressive box scores in a tumultuous season. Two of his best games were a matchup against the Milwaukee Bucks on the first of February, 2021 and a faceoff against the Phoenix Suns later that month.

Against the Bucks, Little totaled 30 points, six boards, and two blocks in just under 30 minutes, shooting 61 percent from the floor, 71 from deep, and perfect on his three free throws.

Versus the Suns, he racked up 18 points, five rebounds, a block, and a steal in 16 minutes, while slashing 57/50/88.

The common denominator? The Blazers were ran off the floor by an average defeat of 30 points between the two games.

Little has shown that he is not only effective, but can be downright dominant against fellow back-ups. When the stakes are low, he grew more and more comfortable, as well as aggressive, and proved why draft experts believed he was a steal at 25th overall.

The Portland Trail Blazers should play Nassir Little like a veteran 3-and-D wing next season

Little has proved that he’s capable of more than what the Blazers are currently asking of him. Beginning next season, the new Portland coach should ensure that he gets minutes similar to a veteran 3-and-D wing off the pine. With the Blazers weaknesses on defense, he should get plenty of opportunity to come in and check the opponent’s forwards and knock down open 3-pointers.

Little has a quick release and a smooth jumper, as shown here. He’s also comfortable shooting against closeouts, an important indicator of a 3-and-D prospect’s future success. There’s no reason to believe that he wouldn’t be more efficient with an increase in chances.

While his outside shot might not be an immediate asset over some of Portland’s other snipers, this play here demonstrates why the Blazers need him on the floor more often. In a semi fast break, he picks up Thanasis Antetokounmpo from three quarters of the court. The eldest Antetokounmpo is not a small guy, but Little is unafraid to square up and force Thanasis to go through him. As the Buck makes his move, Nas uses his quick hands to swipe the ball and create a fast break for himself.

Little’s offense is not a finished product, but his outside shot is good enough for him to be on the floor. His defense is already a much needed asset by the Blazers. Expect Nassir Little to average about 18 minutes a game next year, 10 or so points—mostly from catch-and-shoot triples, and play great perimeter defense.

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