Coming out of high school, Nassir Little was the #3 ranked recruit – ahead of guys like Bol Bol and Zion Williamson. He was the MVP of both the McDonald’s All-American Game and the Jordan Brand Classic, generating massive amounts of hype before even putting on Carolina Blue.
Oddly for the Tar Heels, Little never morphed into the superstar freshman that many expected. As is on-brand with Roy Williams, he relied on his veterans in the starting lineup, making Little the sixth man coming off the bench. The bouncy shooting guard only averaged 18.2 minutes per game, but when he was on the floor, he exemplified many of the things that made him a coveted college recruit.
The essential piece Little will add to the Hawks is defense. While Trae Young is the engine that drives the offense, his defense leaves much to be desired; which is why the Hawks were among the worst defensive teams in the league a year ago. When a guy like De’Andre Bembry was out there with Young, it took so much pressure off Atlanta’s star point guard. Unfortunately, Bembry hasn’t proven enough to be a starter in the NBA, but Little has that capability because of his offensive skills as well.
Little only averaged 9.8 points per game. But remember, those came in just over 18 minutes. Stretch that out over 36 minutes, and you have a 20 point a night scorer as a freshman. Off the dribble, Little has a swift first step that allows him to get by defenders. Once he’s by them, good luck, it only takes him a step or two to prepare for lift off. Little can finish on the best of rim protectors and do it with authority.
THE NBA draft guru Rashad Phillips (if you don’t follow him on Twitter, do so now) has a nickname for Little that makes a lot of sense – Nassir “the engine” Little. What he means by that is Little never stops moving, never stops making an impact on the game, even if he doesn’t have the ball in his hands. That is critical on a Hawks team that already has several guys that can put it in the bucket. Little is a player that can lock up your best player, is elite in transition, and can make plays off the ball. He’d become Trae Young’s best friend (sorry John Collins); which is why Phillips thinks he would be such a fantastic fit in Atlanta.
Here is a video on Youtube of Phillips breaking down Jarrett Culver, RJ Barrett, and Nassir Little:
Despite Little not being a go-to scorer as a freshman at UNC, he shouldn’t have a problem scoring in the NBA. His explosiveness and hustle will represent four or five baskets a night, and even though he shot poorly from behind the arc in college, that should change in a larger sample size. Little’s jump shot is far from broke. He gets proper rotation on the ball, and it looks natural. With more minutes and opportunities, he should develop nicely into a 3-and-D player in the NBA – a position the Hawks are in desperate need of coming into this draft.