clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

NBA Draft 2019: Take a chance on bouncy Nassir Little

New, comments

Little underwhelmed in his lone season at North Carolina, but might his game be better suited for the NBA?

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Columbus Practice Kevin Jairajj-USA TODAY Sports

Remember Play-Doh?

You know, the colorful balls of clay we played with as a kid. We rolled it, shaped it, molded it, creating whatever we could imagine. Well, I’m about to spend the next 500-or-so words comparing athletic North Carolina forward Nassir Little to Play-Doh.

Buckle up.

The Good

The 19-year-old Little stands 6-foot-7 and weighs in at 224 pounds.

He averaged just 9.8 points and 4.6 rebounds per game in his lone season at UNC, shooting 48 percent overall, 26.9 percent from 3-point range and 77 percent from the line. The free throw shooting gives hope that maybe his clunky jumper can be tweaked.

Little looks the part of an NBA-caliber wing… but he sure hasn’t played like one.

So, why should the Pistons be interested at No. 15? Because he’s the type of player that Dwane Casey and his staff can mold. He’s a home run, an all-or-nothing type. He’s probably not going to cost you your job but, if he’s pops, he could be a big part of your future.

That’s what Detroit must look for with this pick.

Most scouting reports point to Little’s strong work ethic, which is good to see from a guy who definitely needs to put in more work. Many correlate the Tar Heels’ rigid offensive system as a reason for his lackluster production. Maybe so, that happened with Marvin Williams back in the day, too.

There are holes, but there’s no denying that Little is one of the best athletes in the draft.

Just look at his bSPARQ rating, a derivative metric based on SPARQ developed by Jared Dubin, Brandon Boyd and Colin Clapham over at NBAathlete.com. Essentially, the bSPARQ looks at a number of different athletic measurements to “rate” a players’ athleticism.

And it really likes Little.

Though his game is as raw as the frozen chicken you bought at the store last week, his 91.18 bSPARQ was the best among wing players at the NBA Draft Combine. For comparison, DBB favorites KZ Okpala and Kevin Porter Jr. boasted 86.02 and 79.99 bSPARQ ratings, respectively.

He’s comfortable getting into the paint and finishing, both through contact and through the air with authority:

And he can do this:

Aaaaaaaaand this:

Look, Little isn’t a great offensive player, but he’s a great finisher around the basket who isn’t afraid to attack the offensive glass. His length (7-foot-2 wingspan) is going to give him a chance to score over bigger guys in the NBA and that athleticism is, well, that’s going to be his calling card.

The Bad

It’s not all good.

Little doesn’t have a great feel for the game. He doesn’t have a reliable perimeter jumper yet. He doesn’t really create for others nor handle the ball well. He averaged one block + steal per game and had twice as many turnovers (48) as assists (24) in 18.2 minutes per game last season. His size, length and athleticism could help him be a great perimeter defender, if he can figure it out.

Some of these are things that can be massaged over time, especially if he’s willing to work.

But… it’s hard to ignore some of the comments (anonymous) college coaches made to The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie earlier this season about Little.

Here’s a good one:

“He’s a big wing that just started being called a pro a year ago because of how hard he works. His work ethic, I know his routine is terrific. I have a lot of respect for the kid. I know a lot of people bash him because he can’t shoot and he hasn’t played a lot of minutes because it’s North Carolina, but he’s got Cam Johnson and Luke Maye who are two bonafide college players that Roy Williams loves and should love. So my take on Nassir is that he’s going to be a lottery pick and he deserves to be that, top-five in the draft type. Just because of his potential and his work-ethic. He’s 6-7 on the wing, and I think he’s going to get better. His shot has changed a little bit since high school. It’s definitely more on the side of his head a little bit. I don’t know why. But I still really like him.

And here’s a, uh, negative comment:

“Hate him (as a player). Absolutely hate him. I think he’s a terrible player. I don’t care that he made a couple of 3s against Virginia Tech because everyone was feeling good. I hate him. I think he’s a bad player. I watched him play like crazy. I did see the McDonald’s and Jordan games. That’s great, he played harder than people in those settings, and people fell in love with that. The practice settings, he was competitive. But I see a guy who has no idea what he’s doing. You can rep a million shots, and I’m sure somebody will, and he’ll go in the first 15 picks and they’ll bring you into a one-on-zero workout and he’ll make a bunch of 3s. But you can’t teach him feel, I don’t think. I just don’t like him at all. We went into that game, I was begging Roy to put him into the game. What does he do if the other team doesn’t make a bad play? Because, hot take, NBA players aren’t just going to throw you the ball.”

Obviously, the jury is still out on Little as a prospect.

It’s possible he’s just an athletic body that doesn’t know how to play... and never figures it out. There’s a chance he’s a power forward stuck in a small forward’s body and he ends up being more like Jerome “Junkyard Dog” Williams than a high-flying star on the wing.

That would be that bad, but it’s not what you’re hoping and wishing for.

So why this guy?

Because he has a chance to return top-five value.

There’s another wing that’ll be available at No. 15 who would definitely help the Pistons more next year — Little’s his UNC teammate, Cameron Johnson. But aside from the differences in style, Johnson’s ceiling is significantly lower.

He’s older, not as good of an athlete. He is not going blossom into a star. He might just be a bigger version of Danny Green.

But Little could be so much more. And he might not be anything. The tools are there, though, and if you trust Casey and his staff to develop young players, give them a young player with all of the tools that Little possesses.

Maybe he can be the next Pascal Siakam?