What are the odds that the San Antonio Spurs land North Carolina swingman Nassir Little?
The San Antonio Spurs have been on a tear as of late, but they could still be in a position to nab a high-flying freshman out of Chapel Hill in Nassir Little. Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Wasserman compiled his last mock draft of 2018, in which he had Little slotted as being the 13th pick in the first round of the 2019 NBA Draft.
Despite being in the same recruiting class as the likes of Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett, it was Little who garnered the preseason accolades, being named the MVP and Co-MVP of the McDonald’s All-American Game and Jordan Brand Classic respectively. Such a feat placed Little in rarified air, joining LeBron James as the only other to win MVP honors in both events.
Little, once considered a near-lock as a top-three pick coming into the season, has seen his draft stock drop off precipitously during his time playing in the Dean Dome. Let’s investigate how his game would translate to the Spurs system if San Antonio had the opportunity to select Little.
The 6’6″ forward is currently averaging 10.8 points on 51.5 percent shooting and 4.2 rebounds in just 19.4 minutes of play over his first 12 collegiate games. On the surface, these numbers pale in comparison to that of players such as Williamson and Barrett. Further, Little has connected on just five three-pointers all year on 21.7 percent shooting from downtown.
It just hit me. Nassir Little's freshman year REALLY reminds me of Vince Carter's.
Vince played 18 minutes per game and averaged 7.5 points.
Nassir is playing 19 minutes per game and averaging 10.8 points.
Both showed flashes of brilliance & both looked a bit lost at times too
— nbabeau (@NBABeau) December 29, 2018
Seeing the raw numbers will undoubtedly create a healthy level of skepticism about Little’s transition to the next level. However, there are several other factors at play that have prevented Little from producing in the same eye-popping manner UNC fans saw prior to his arrival on campus.
Little is joining a senior-laden Tar Heel roster, which has forced the freshman to adopt a bench role and that adjustment has resulted in a productivity drop-off as he transitions to the college game. Despite his early season fluctuations, Little’s start to his freshman season is eerily similar to that of another Carolina legend: Vince Carter.
It’s safe to say Carter’s career turned out just fine as he’s currently the oldest player in the NBA at the ripe young age of 41 with 21 years of league experience under his belt. While it’s impossible and irresponsible to say Little’s career will follow the same trajectory as Carter’s, it shows that Little’s slow start and the system he’s playing in should not be an indictment on his ability to produce at the next level.
One of the greatest traits that Little possesses is one that cannot be taught: athleticism. When asked about the subject, UNC head coach Roy Williams said that Little is easily the most athletic player he’s ever had the opportunity to coach. With incredible explosion and leaping abilities, Little can glide through the lane and finish thunderous put back dunks.
Many teams and scouts will be enamored with Little’s combination of size and speed, with the potential to develop into a two-way/3-and-D player if he’s able to find a more consistent three-point shot. His strong 6’6″, 220-pound frame coupled with his steady body control allows Little to absorb contact on drives and he has shown glimpses of instinctual positioning on the offensive glass for easy buckets.
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While the physical traits are undeniable, Little has much room for growth on both ends of the floor to become a more well-rounded prospect. As mentioned, just the five three-point makes on the season at a low percentage is concerning. Further, Little has recorded just 10 assists this year (.08 APG), which is tied for seventh on the team and shows that he still has a ways to go as a facilitator and playmaker
As a fit for the Spurs, Little is an ideal candidate. The two-way potential coincides perfectly with a team that’s fundamentally rooted in defense. Plus, the addition of another explosive player to pair with the likes of a healthy Dejounte Murray and Lonnie Walker would give Spurs fans a young and exciting core for years to come.
Currently, the Spurs’ draft pick is hovering around the middle of the first round towards the back end of the lottery. While the Spurs do not traditionally trade up to acquire players.
If they believe Little is the piece they need they could consider packaging their two first round picks – including the Raptors first round pick they received from the Kawhi Leonard trade – to select Little.
Here are some other prospects the Spurs may take a hard look at this year: