UNC Basketball: Breakdown of Nassir Little’s Summer League debut

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LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – JULY 06: Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk #19 of the Detroit Pistons passes against Nassir Little #6 the Portland Trail Blazers during the 2019 NBA Summer League at the Thomas & Mack Center on July 6, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Pistons defeated the Trail Blazers 93-73. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Drafted 25th overall in the 2019 NBA Draft, UNC Basketball combo forward Nassir Little made his Summer League debut Saturday for the Portland Trail Blazers. Here’s a breakdown of all that went down.

A former No. 3 RCSI recruit from the 2018 high school recruiting class with lottery aspirations, those who tuned into the events that unfolded on June 20th at the Barclays Center heard name after name called before 6-foot-6 UNC Basketball power wing Nassir Little was selected.

Endearing in spirit and attitude with an on-court persona of a powerful bully with thunderous athleticism that manifests in rim-rocking slams and disrespectful rejections, there was much to like about Nassir Little. Months before he would enroll at UNC, a late-blooming senior season saw his prospects as a player spike, with flashes of perimeter shooting and on-ball creation drawing high praise and launching the Florida native into stratospheric heights on preseason mock drafts. Some pegged him going first, others top-5, but none considered him to be someone that would slip out of the top 10, let alone the lottery.

An underwhelming freshman campaign under Roy Williams at UNC — rife with inconsistent shooting, anemic off-ball defensive awareness, shaky decision-making, evidence of low feel as a basketball player and a clash of stylistic ideologies between player and coach — saw the 19-year-old fall down draft boards, with his stock tumbling from the lofty heights at which they were only a few months ago.

A strong pre-draft process had many thinking that he’d squeak into the lottery. He and his shooting coach worked on his shot mechanics, smoothing it out and removing the slingshot release. He supposedly cut weight, a good sign considering that he went into his freshman season with added bulk in order to play as a power forward, which ultimately sapped him of quickness. His charming personality and mature introspection popped in his interviews with teams and the media, assuring everyone that whoever drafted him would be getting a positive locker room presence and a great human being.

But his name wasn’t called in the first 10 picks, nor the first 15, not even the first 20. He slid to the Portland Trail Blazers at No. 25, an organization that readily admits that their pessimistic in regards to rookies contributing to winning, playoff basketball, an organization that probably saw Little as a solid project to take on. He’s not a complete player, not even close, and they probably thought that was OK.

Little’s game is one that needs polishing, as he’s not one that should be expected to contribute right away, not when his on-court IQ needs work on both offense and defense in essentially all aspects of the game.

Yet the media dubbed him one of the draft’s biggest steals, arguably the top steal of the first round, which is unfair to Little. Otherworldly expectations can taint the public perception of a player, and narratives can stick like glue whether they’re warranted or not.

To Blazers fans that had seen very little of Little, his Las Vegas Summer League debut against the Detroit Pistons on Saturday — two points (1-of-6 FG, 0-1 3PT), three rebounds, two fouls, minus-19 in 22 minutes off the bench — likely left them feeling perplexed at the hype, and perhaps understanding how he slid on draft night in the first place.

Let’s make it clear: He showed nothing that we haven’t seen before, as has been noted in-depth previously, but seeing the same unfortunate traits and tendencies manifest themselves at the Thomas & Mack Center was still not a great outcome, even if it were unwise to expect anything different.

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