#14 on the PB Big Board
F – North Carolina
Freshman, 6’6, 220 pounds
What he does well:
Body and athleticism
People love to joke about the NFL Draft Combine, cheekily referring to it as the Underwear Olympics or other silly names. When push comes to shove, they aren’t wrong. That combine is driven to showcase the athleticism of the players available for NFL teams to pick.
The NBA Draft Combine doesn’t get nearly the same attention or ribbing for a few reasons. It’s a less popular sport. Less of the big names participate. It’s simply smaller with fewer players, teams, and hub-bub. And lastly, there is less going on.
NBA players are only asked to perform a sprint, two agility drills, one lift, vertical jump, some shooting and some scrimmaging, after everyone is measured head to toe and arm to arm. Only having prospects bench press is an extremely 1957 way of thinking. How about a squat or something? Chest is barely used in basketball. How about broad jump? How about something else?
That’s all a very long-winded way of saying that Nassir Little is the kind of player who would have excelled at any additional testing at the combine. He’s 6-foot-6, weighs 225 pounds, and has a 7-foot-1 wingspan, while also looking like Michelangelo chiseled him from stone. That’s what he looks like now and he was born in the year 2000.
The sky is the limit for what he can grow into physically, leading him to be a potentially dominant defender, rebounder, and rim diver. If he knows that this is the role he is best suited for and he embraces it, he could be one of the most valuable “role” players in the NBA on his second pro contract.
Aggressiveness inside the arc
Though he didn’t always fit into North Carolina’s high-speed attack, Little is like a bull in a china shop when he gets the ball with a full head of steam. He was fourth in the ACC at drawing fouls, earning almost six whistles per 40 minutes.
When he catches the ball at the wing or the high post, Little is violent in his drives to the basket. Smaller and weaker players had no chance to body up with Little and taller players didn’t have the foot speed to impede his path to the basket. He can be destructive when attacking.
Where he struggles:
Part of being a switchy, rangy player in today’s NBA is the ability to extend defenses to the arc. Little is not a threat to do so with his current shooting ability. He was 14 of 52 from long range in Chapel Hill, an ugly percentage for a player as surrounded by as much talent as Little was this season.
His free throw stroke is stronger, so there is hope. Without a shot, Little will face sagging defenses ready for his assaults on the painted area. Adding a shot would clear some space for Little and his teammates, making offensive success more feasible for Little at the next level.
Knowing his role
I mentioned above that if he has a feel for how he fits with a team, Little could be a really valuable piece for a contending team. The alternative is scary. If Nassir Little, or those close to him, believe that he could be a star in the NBA, they are probably mistaken. I don’t mean he can’t make an All-Star game or make a name for himself. Plenty of superlative role players accomplish those feats.
Little’s problem is as a scorer and as creator. He had only 24 assists as a freshman at Carolina and generally was not looked to as a playmaker. Little didn’t show nearly enough court vision, shooting, or ball-handling to think he could grow into a primary or even secondary option for an NBA franchise to build around offensively. If he can’t accept that his best fit is as a rebounding, defensive motor-machine, then I don’t see his value. If he does see that, he could be a beast.
I have concerns about whether or not he sees this situation the same way I do. When asked about his lack of production this year, he mentioned his fit with Roy Williams’ plans for him. Little didn’t toss his Hall of Fame coach under the bus, but certainly seemed more inclined to think he had more to offer than what we saw this season.
How his game translates to the NBA:
Again, it all comes down to his role. Little can’t shoot like many teams would like him to, but if he can switch all over the floor defensively, he’ll find a purpose in the pros.
His defense is what could earn him minutes early in his career and should become a calling card for his game, assuming he puts in the effort and attitude necessary to do so.
- Shawn Marion
- Gerald Wallace
- Al-Farouq Aminu
- Semi Ojeleye
Next up: #15 RJ Barrett
Shane McNichol is the founder, editor, and senior writer at PalestraBack.com. He has also contributed to ESPN.com, Rush The Court, Larry Brown Sports, and USA Today Sports Weekly. Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain. You can find every post from this blog on Twitter by following @PalestraBack.