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Previewing the Detroit Pistons 2021 Summer League Roster: Spencer Littleson

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Littleson comes in as an elite 3-point shooter, but it is his defensive ability that might allow him to carve out an NBA career

NCAA Basketball: Toledo at Xavier Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Pistons start their summer league on Sunday in Las Vegas against the Oklahoma City Thunder at 8:30 pm Eastern time on ESPN2. As the team starts putting the roster together, I wanted to start profiling the individual guys on the team who may be unfamiliar to many. Cade is the undisputed star of the show, and we here at DBB have broken down Isaiah Livers and Luka Garza, so now it is time to start moving on to the rest of the roster.

I wanted to start off with a guy many in the Michigan area will be rooting for. Although he played the final three years of his college basketball career at the University of Toledo, guard Spencer Littleson is originally from Rochester Hills. He is even a student of Detroit’s own Yoda Rashad Phillips.

What exactly does Littleson bring to the table? And what are the chances he will be able to make his way onto an NBA roster, overseas or G League roster after the final summer league games?

Well, let’s take a look at his per-game stats from this past season before we start breaking down his game:

  • 13.4 points, 3.2 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.2 blocks
  • 57.1% from two-point range, 47.2%(!!!) from three-point distance, 87.5% from the free-throw line
  • 68.7%(!!!) True Shooting, 5.9% Assist Rate, 6.4% Turnover Rate, 14.8% Usage

What He Projects to Do Well

Littleson is the definition of what I like to call a LEGIT shooter (editor’s note: unclear where this falls on Phillips’ hooper vs. basketball player spectrum). This means someone who can both knock down jumpers at a high percentage and attempt them at a rate much higher than average. To give you an idea how LEGIT Littleson’s credentials are, you first look at his absurd 47.2% from distance, but then you look at the volume and realize he managed this percentage on 218 three-point attempts this past season.

This translated to a three-point attempt rate of 77.6%. If you are unfamiliar with what the three-point attempt rate measures, it is the percentage of a player’s shot attempts that come from three-point range. So, not only is Littleson taking a ton of threes and hitting them at a high rate, anyone that game-planned against Toledo knew this was what Littleson was going to be doing and they still could not stop him.

To put his game in context, Littleson was one of just 22 players to attempt at least 200 threes. Not only did he lead them in 3-point percentage, but he was also one of only three to top 41%, a bar he cleared by a full 6.2%.

He is also not a one-year-wonder as in his three seasons at Toledo saw him put up at least 96 three-point attempts every season and his career-low percentage in those three years was 39.3%. Littleson continued to work on his three-point shot all three years and became an absolute lethal shooter you had to gameplan for and left college with a career 42.1% three-point percentage.

I also think Littleson’s defense is underrated. Listed at 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds, Littleson is not a physically imposing presence. Yet in spite of this size, he never backs down from a challenge, can hold his ground surprisingly well against bigger players, and is always engaged in a defensive stance and communicating with his teammates on where to be.

Case in point, December 9, 2020, against the University of Michigan, Littleson dropped 14 points and one steal on the Wolverines shooting 4-of-6 from three-point land. But much more impressive than his stat line is the way he held up against a trio of Michigan wings.

Littleson is matched up many times in this game against the 6-foot-9 Franz Wagner, 6-foot-7 Isaiah Livers, and 6-foot-5 inch Chaundee Brown. I implore you to watch the entire clip here and just keep your eyes on number 11 from Toledo. He never gets pushed over, he maintains his defensive stance, and he communicates with his teammates on where they are supposed to be.

He also gets matched up one-on-one with the supposedly quicker Mike Smith, and while it LOOKS like Smith gets the better of him at times, Smith ended up shooting 2 of 6, 33% in that game. Littleson also does a fantastic job of jumping into the lanes and into the post to pry the ball loose when ball handlers and big men get reckless.

I’m not saying he is going to be a lockdown defender, but he shows fight, IQ, and skills that will serve him well in his attempts to make an NBA roster. He will be that guy no one wants to face in practice because of how hard he goes all the time.

Aspects of His Game That Need Work

Playmaking and ball handling are two vital components Littleson has to improve. While I would not call him a bad passer and actually think this may not be too big of an issue, his assist percentage seems to suggest he was hunting his three at the expense of everything else. Perhaps this was just what he was coached to do, but it would still serve him well if he was able to create more as he is point guard-sized and thus limited in who he can guard. Being a better playmaker can add at least something else to entice teams to keep him.

More important, in my opinion, is his ball handling. Exhibiting some off-the-dribble scoring ability with things like a baseline jumper and side dribble pull-up three, Littleson’s shooting can become a real asset in the rotation if he develops more dribble moves to get his shot off. And at six foot four inches tall, there is little room in the NBA for a catch-and-shoot only guys whose shots bigger defenders will have an easier time altering.

And while he cannot work on his size, that is going to be a major issue for Littleson as despite his fight and focus in defense, he WILL be hunted from day one as he will not be able to effect high release points on jump shots of taller players and teams with bigger centers will be looking to get that switch with Littleson guarding their big man.

NBA Comp and Chances of Making It Onto A Roster

Littleson could almost be a carbon copy of a player listed at the same 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds: former seven-year NBA veteran sharpshooter Troy Daniels. Daniels had a career three-point attempt rate of 73.4% and shot 39.5% on those three-point shots for his career. Littleson would do well to study tape of Daniels as he was able to make an NBA career out of being a three-point specialist, firing away from a variety of three-point shot types. Daniels also spent time in the G-League (then called the D League) to hone his game, and I imagine Littleson will need to do the same.

What should we expect from Littleson in Summer League? We know Dwane Casey loves his two-point guard lineups, and Littleson should be able to fit into that and complement someone like Killian Hayes perfectly. Ditto for Saben Lee. I know Casey is not coaching the Summer League squad, but I imagine they would still like to see if these guys can fit into what the main roster likes to do.

I think Littleson will be one of the guys the team will want to play a lot to get an idea of what he can do. Also, do not be surprised if he and fellow UDFA John Petty are given the green light to fire away from deep as both are known as volume three-point shooters who can prove their value to teams right away by catching fire from deep.

What are his chances of making this squad or any NBA squad this season? I would honestly put it at 50/50 for two reasons. Number one being his obvious shooting abilities which are at a premium in today’s NBA. And number two, he is already a low-usage role player who does not have to adjust his game from being a ball-dominant star in college. In his three years at Toledo, Littleson never posted a usage percentage above 15.1%.

Littleson knows what his job is spacing the floor, he is not going to demand the ball, and he is going to stay focused and fight on defense even if he is outmatched physically. All of these things point to a professional ready to display his skills and continue to work on his craft.

Let us know what you think of Littleson in the comments below! Tune in next time when I look at a fellow three-point shooter in John Petty.