PORTLAND, Ore. — The Portland Trail Blazers drafted North Carolina freshman small forward Nassir Little with the 25th overall pick in the 2019 NBA draft.
ESPN calls Little "a physical specimen," and the 19-year-old checks in at 6-foot-6 with a 7-1 wingspan and has good size at 224 pounds. He was the MVP of the McDonald's All-American All-Star game in 2018 and was a Top-5 recruit when he committed to the Tar Heels.
Little played behind senior Cameron Johnson, the 11th pick in the draft, during his freshman season. He averaged 9.8 points and 4.6 rebounds in 18.2 minutes per game, though he struggled from the 3-point line as a freshman, shooting 26.9% on 1.4 3-point attempts per game.
"The former top-five recruit saw his stock drop after an inconsistent freshman season, but he has appeared to have worked his way back into the lottery with a strong pre-draft process, particularly by showing better outside shooting potential," ESPN wrote in its mock draft, which had the Suns selecting Little with the 11th pick.
Little was a consensus lottery pick in every major mock draft. The Athletic and The Ringer both had him ninth; Sporting News had him 11th; Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports and CBS Sports had him 12th; and Bleacher Report had him 13th.
Little, after being drafted by the Blazers, said he'll play with a chip on his shoulder after slipping so far in the draft.
"My entire life, people always counted me out," he said. "I'm always overlooked, nothing's changed at this moment. Now I'm just going to have to shock everyone again, just like I have done at every other moment of my life."
Little said he didn't meet with the Blazers at the NBA combine and didn't work out for Portland because he was expecting to be drafted in the lottery.
"I'm so grateful for the opportunity," he said. "It's a blessing in disguise. ... I definitely think I'm going to be able to shock a lot of people in the NBA."
"Portland got an absolute steal," ESPN draft analyst Jay Bilas said, referring to Little as "a Top-10 talent."
ESPN draft analyst Chauncey Billups said he was hoping the Blazers would draft USC shooting guard Kevin Porter, who ended up being drafted by the Bucks with the 30th overall pick, but had plenty of praise for Little.
"[Nassir] gives them a boost on the wing where they need some help," Billups said. "Nassir Little has a ton of promise. Plays with a chip on his shoulder. They'll love what he brings to the game."
Here's what ESPN listed as Little's strengths and areas for improvement:
- Physical specimen at 6-6, 224 pounds with a 7-1 wingspan. Terrific athlete who is quick off his feet for rebounds and finishes. Has significant potential defensively with his length, strength, physicality and lateral agility, giving him multi-positional potential on the interior and perimeter. Fits the mold of what many teams are looking for in the modern game.
- Didn't convert 3-pointers at a high rate but has promising mechanics and touch. Made 77 percent of his free throw attempts in his lone year in college. Averaged 22 points per 40 minutes despite never truly finding his way offensively.
- Consensus top high school recruit who may have more potential than he was able to demonstrate at UNC. Looked like a different, more confident player in other settings. Consistently lauded for his strong intangibles off the court.
AREAS FOR IMPROVEMENT
- Didn't make the impact most expected as a freshman, playing only 18 MPG. Didn't improve as much as scouts hoped throughout the year in terms of his skill-level and feel for the game.
- Rudimentary ball-handler and shot-creator who struggles to generate high-percentage offense at times. Below-average passer who doesn't see the floor particularly well and was often a split-second late with his decision-making.
- Has terrific potential defensively, but wasn't always impactful on that end this season. Mistake prone — struggled to make the right reads off the ball. Awareness and energy level fluctuate.
Portland has no second round pick in this year's draft, though one report indicates they were trying to acquire one before the draft.
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