With Zach Collins missing at least the next four months rehabbing from shoulder surgery, the Blazers have been trying to figure out the right rotation and starting lineups to fill the starting power forward void.
Blazers head coach Terry Stotts has experimented at the four spot, staring both Anthony Tolliver and Mario Hezonja at power forward.
But on Wednesday night, Coach Stotts gave his rookie a shot.
In Nassir Little’s first NBA career start, he saw a good majority of minutes guarding Pascal Siakam.
Not an easy task.
Little proved he could hang with the four-year power forward.
Even though Portland did not get the win on Wednesday night, Little said it wasn’t the result he wanted, but he was proud of his performance on Siakam.
Little even knew Siakam’s exact stats while he was defending the Raptors power forward.
“I think I did really well. When I came out of the game he only had 15 points and he finished with , so for a guy that’s on a max contract, for me to be a rookie in my first start, I think I did extremely well. He’s really good at reading the defense and he has a lot of counters, so whatever you bite on, he’s going to counter next so I think that’s what makes him really challenging,” Little said.
The Blazers youngster has been spending a lot of his time looking over the Blazers’ playbook lately to review the power forward’s duties, not small forward.
“Before this I was learning all the stuff at the three and then with Zach Collins getting hurt, it’s a whole positional shift. So, now I’ve got to learn everything at the four. It’s a process, but you know, I’m working hard, I’m watching extra film,” Little said.
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Coach Stotts was pleased with Little’s grit.
“I thought he had a really good game. I thought he held his own with Siakam defensively, brought a lot of energy, and played hard. So I was very pleased with the way he played,” Stotts said.
“Nassir is playing some good minutes at the 4, so that is encouraging,” Stotts added.
Little finished with seven points, five rebounds, and one steal.
The Blazers rookie is quickly becoming a fan favorite for the way he hangs his hat on his defense and work ethic.
Another Portland player who does just that is Kent Bazemore.
Bazemore expressed how Little doesn’t even look like how a rookie used to look back in his day.
“I think these rookies now aren’t really rookies, with their size… [Nassir] physically had everything he needed to contain [Siakam], and for him to be thrown in the fire like that and make the hustle plays, that’s how you stay on the floor. It’s good that he knows that at this age,” Bazemore said.
CJ McCollum echoed those same sentiments.
“I thought he handled it well,” McCollum said of Little’s tough assignment on Siakam. “He works extremely hard, he’s aggressive. He’s athletic and it was a nice first-career start for him to go up against an All-Star caliber player in Siakam – a guy who is versatile, can do a little bit of everything, and I think he held his own.”
Wednesday night marked Little’s first career start since his high school days.
The 19-year-old came off the bench at North Carolina during his one-and-done college career.
From the sounds of it in the locker room, this could be a Coach Stotts experiment that is here to stay for the foreseeable future.