He was the Most Valuable Player of the McDonald’s All-America game a year ago and one of the top high school recruits in the country. ESPN analyst Jay Bilas called him a “steal” for the Trail Blazers at No. 25 and a “top-10 talent.”
Meet Nassir Little, Portland’s first-round choice in the NBA Draft Thursday night.
Little was projected to be chosen earlier and admitted he expected to be a lottery pick. So when the draft progressed past the lottery, it was a progressively difficult time for him.
“I was definitely anxious,” he said in a telephone interview after the first round was complete. “All that anticipation definitely went away and I was so grateful to hear my name called. Definitely worth it.
“Slipping down to 25, initially I was kind of confused, but looking at their roster and how they played in the playoffs I actually think it’s a really good fit for me. I think I contribute on the wing and playing with a guard like Dame and CJ could help me as a player, as well.”
The Trail Blazers were not expecting to be able to obtain Little with that pick.
“Him getting to 25 certainly wasn’t a situation we were anticipating,” said Neil Olshey, Portland’s president of basketball operations. “But we’re thrilled to have him. Everybody comes into these rooms and talks about having a guy higher on their board. I think everybody at some point or another had him higher on their board. So we’re excited. He’s a good positional fit and we love his athleticism, his upside.
“Another high-character kid – salutatorian of his high-school class and a National Merit Scholar. Great kid. Great worker.”
A 6-7 small forward with a 7-1 wingspan who did not start a single game at North Carolina as a freshman, Little is known as a good athlete who defends well but is still working on his jump shot. He shot just 26.9 percent from the college three-point line. He averaged only 18.2 minutes per game but scored 9.8 points and 4.6 rebounds per game in that time.
“It was tough for me, but I think I made the best of the situation that I could,” he said. “I averaged almost 10 points and five rebounds in under 20 minutes. I think for anybody that’s a high level of production for the minutes they’re getting. I think I had a limited role and I wasn’t able to showcase my abilities as much as I wanted to, but I definitely think I’ll be able to shock a lot of people in the NBA.”
Little said he did not work out for the Trail Blazers, even at the combine, and that the team didn’t show any particular interest in him. And at the time of the media interview, he still had not talked to anyone from the Portland front office.
“I was expecting to go in the lottery,” Little said. “I was surprised the Blazers drafted me because I hadn’t had much communication with them. I didn't work out for them. I didn’t know they had much interest in me. I’m just fortunate that they saw something in me that others didn’t see.”
From Orlando and just a little older than the Blazers’ Anfernee Simons, Little was happy to find a friend on the Portland roster.
“I’m extremely excited,” he said. “We just played pickup a couple of weeks ago. It’s kind of crazy we’re going to be playing for the same team. We played against each other in high school a little over two years ago. He’s an extremely good shooter and a prolific scorer. I’m excited to get to work with him.”
And who won that game between the two players?
“Anfernee won, but it was definitely a close game.”
And speaking of Simons, Olshey did plenty of that, too. The Blazers have been monitoring his development and Olshey was effusive in his praise of Simons’ natural ability.
“It’s kind of all coming together for him,” Olshey said. “You guys will see it. He’s as talented as anyone we’ve ever drafted since I’ve been here, in terms of natural gifts. I mean, he’s not the player that Dame or CJ was, but in terms of just natural, God-given ability, he’s as gifted as anybody I’ve ever drafted.”
Simons, Little and Gary Trent Jr. will play for the Blazers' Summer League team in Las Vegas, beginning July 6, it is believed.