Monday, May 27, 2019
Mock Draft Monday: Is Nassir Little the next Kawhi Leonard?
Back in June of 2016, I interviewed a class of 2018 4-star small forward out of Oakleaf High School in Jacksonville, Florida named Nassir Little for GoldenBearReport.com. Cal was expressing a little bit of interest in him at the time and as is my job over at GBR (a.k.a. Cal Rivals), I interviewed him to get a feel for where Cal fit in his recruiting picture.
I wrote about Little: "At 6'6", 195 pounds, Little has a great physical profile. He has great length, quickness, and explosive athleticism. He does a fabulous job of scoring inside and getting to the rim on offense while providing energy on defense. In short, he is a prototypical two-way player."
On top of being a fantastically gifted athlete, Little was also a really serious student: 4.0 GPA with an interest in studying biology. High academic schools like Harvard, Stanford, and Vanderbilt would go on to offer him a scholarship, but Cal never did. It puzzled me since he seemed like such a perfect fit for what Cal is supposed to be all about: High level athletics and high level academics.
When Little got bumped up to 5-star status, became a McDonald's All-American, and landed at an elite North Carolina program, I wasn't surprised. I was super high on him from the moment I watched his tape as a 4-star recruit. He had it all: Size, athleticism, motor, and brains. It was fun to see him blow up the way he did considering that I got to interview him before he really gained national attention.
Similar to June of 2016, I feel that Little is once again getting overlooked as he enters the 2019 NBA draft. There are good odds he doesn't go in the top ten when in truth, he might end up being the best player in this entire draft class (Yes, better than Zion Williamson). He has all the pieces to be an elite two-way player in the NBA. The only knock on him is he isn't the most polished player.
Flash back a few years to the 2011 NBA draft: There was a supremely athletic small forward that I was really high on named Kawhi Leonard out of San Diego State. He had great length, freakish athleticism, and a really high motor. Despite having a lot of work to do in terms of polishing his game, I wanted the Utah Jazz to draft Leonard with the #3 overall pick. He reminded me a lot of Andrei Kirilenko and seemed to have all the tools to be an elite two-way player in the NBA. The Jazz ended up passing on Leonard twice, drafting Enes Kanter at #3 and Alec Burks at #12.
The parallels between Leonard and Little don't end there. In his freshman year at San Diego State, Leonard averaged 16.3 points, 12.6 rebounds, 1.8 steals, and .9 blocks per 40 minutes on 45.5% shooting from the field, 20.5% shooting from 3-point range, and 72.6% shooting from the foul line. In his freshman year at North Carolina, Little averaged 21.5 points, 10.1 rebounds, 1.2 steals, and 1.2 blocks per 40 minutes on 47.8% shooting from the field, 26.9% shooting from 3-point range, and 77.0% shooting from the foul line.
The only real difference between the two of them is that Leonard was a sophomore entering the NBA draft while Little is a freshman. Outside of that, they're almost identical statistically and where they are/were projected to go in the draft. It's uncanny.
Just like how I felt Kawhi Leonard should have gone in the top three of the 2011 NBA draft, I feel like Nassir Little should go in the top three of the 2019 NBA draft. I know he won't because of where Zion Williamson, Ja Morant, and R.J. Barrett are pegged, but I truly believe when we look back on the 2019 NBA draft, we will be asking ourselves why Little didn't go a lot higher than he did. He has all the physical tools and intangibles to be the next Kawhi Leonard. It's just a matter of him putting in the work and staying hungry. Just like he did when he was a 4-star recruit.
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