EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

The if of the 5th: New Suns wing Nassir Little still has 3-and-D upside

Oct 1, 2023, 10:30 AM | Updated: 11:13 am

Nassir Little drives on Devin BOoker...

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) defends as Portland Trail Blazers forward Nassir Little shoots during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

(AP Photo/Matt York)

The unofficial start to the NBA season in media day is within a week, and who the Phoenix Suns make the fifth starter alongside Deandre Ayton, Bradley Beal, Devin Booker and Kevin Durant is unknown.

Well, that was how we introduced this series on Tuesday, a day before Ayton (and Toumani Camara) was traded to the Portland Trail Blazers as part of a multi-team trade in exchange for Jusuf Nurkic, Grayson Allen, Nassir Little and Keon Johnson.

Nurkic slots in for Ayton but the question still remains of who the fifth starter is, and now the Suns have even more options.

It is a compliment to the depth Phoenix has built up but also points to how necessary it is that they must figure that out. We are going to roll through eight candidates leading up to media day on Monday with respect to names like Damion Lee, Chimezie Metu and Ish Wainright, who could hypothetically start games this season as well.

While much intrigue is percolating in regard to the player receiving the nod on opening night in the Bay, we will instead preview all of the options under the optics of who starts the first game of round one in the postseason.

This means our conversations will naturally trend toward what these players have to do over the course of the regular season to earn that spot and how they can differentiate themselves over that time, as opposed to keeping it more theoretical by projecting how training camp and such goes.

That is likely how this will pan out. Head coach Frank Vogel will try different looks and grant various opportunities across a seven-month period. Injuries will force him to do so anyway. Could the Day One starter secure that job immediately? Sure. But Vogel and his staff would be wise to sift through everything he’s got.

Nassir Little is a two-way answer as Suns’ fifth starter

Why should he start: The Suns get a physical, switchable athlete alongside their stars who last year showed signs of breaking through as a shooter on a relatively high volume. And who knows? Maybe there is a lot more upside in a winning program for Little, who could receive a confidence boost by working through growing pains and being covered by the starters.

Pros: Little started 23 games, appearing in 42 total two years ago for Portland. He averaged 9.8 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.3 assists in just 25.9 minutes a night. He was also at nearly a block. A sturdy 6-foot-5 and 200 pounds with a plus-7-foot wingspan, Little is viewed as a jumbo Josh Okogie, a player who can switch from guards through power forwards to give Phoenix some of the secondary stuff.

A first-round pick by the Blazers in 2019, he just found a shooting stroke in 2022-23, hitting 36.7% from three on 2.9 attempts per game — but that was in just 18.1 minutes. He averaged 6.6 points and 2.6 rebounds per game last season, though he found a way to be efficient without tons of playing time. There is a question of how much more of an offensive force he can be as a mid-40s shooter for his career. That’s not terribly inefficient, and Little has a little off-the-bounce stuff to wonder if there’s more to un-tap.

Little has a smooth jumper albeit with a low release point, and he has enough wiggle to complement his strong frame when attacking the rim.

Cons: Is Little’s shooting success permanent? That is likely to swing his candidacy for this job, and there’s certainly room to wonder why Portland, with its lack of success the past two years, didn’t dig deeper to find out if there’s more to unlock in his game considering he still is viewed as a versatile defender with enough scoring chops to be optimistic — especially as a third-tier scorer on this iteration of the Suns.

One big question mark is whether he truly can go from bodying true power forwards and then hanging on switches with the elite point guards on the roster. Without tons of Blazers tape in the mental library, that’s a wonder for me as I project how easily Little can separate himself from Keita Bates-Diop and Okogie in terms of minutes and a chance to start.

He also has a variety of different injuries that have kept him from playing more than 54 games in a season. You could call it injury-prone, or you could say it’s bad luck and broken up any momentum in terms of his development.

Likelihood: 50-50. Little has everything you like and hasn’t necessarily done anything to hurt his stock. He has a reputation as a competitive, hard-playing guy, but there are red flags from his Portland tenure about why he didn’t get stronger looks considering how fluid and efficient his game is. Perhaps it’s because he’s not elite at any one thing, but if that means there’s a solid NBA player who at 23 years old is still taking tiny steps toward improving, it was worth Phoenix taking a flier on him.

Comments

Comment guidelines: No name-calling, personal attacks, profanity, or insults. Please keep the conversation civil and help us moderate comments by reporting abuse.
comments powered by Disqus

Empire of the Suns

(Jeremy Schnell/Arizona Sports)...

Kellan Olson

Amar’e Stoudemire’s long-awaited Suns night comes with Ring of Honor nod

There is a lot different about the Phoenix Suns franchise that Amar'e Stoudemire was a part of for the first eight years of his NBA career.

2 hours ago

Devin Booker #1 (L) and Royce O'Neale #00 of the Phoenix Suns react after an apparent injury during...

Kellan Olson

Concerning Devin Booker injury overshadows Suns’ slow start, loss to Rockets

Every loss from here on for the Suns should come with the "hard-fought" qualifier in front of it given how close they are to a play-in fate.

2 hours ago

Bradley Beal #3 of the Phoenix Suns adjusts his mask before the game against the Sacramento Kings a...

Kellan Olson

Bradley Beal in good spot for Suns return after caution with hamstring injury

It's hard to think of anyone in the NBA this season that would have wanted to rush back from an injury more than Suns guard Bradley Beal.

7 hours ago

Devin Booker #1 and head coach Frank Vogel of the Phoenix Suns during the second half of the NBA ga...

Kellan Olson

Suns’ gauntlet of high-end opponents begins at stretch run of tight West race

Thirteen of the Phoenix Suns' remaining 23 games are against the best of the best in the NBA and will show us who they really are.

1 day ago

Caleb Love #2 of the Arizona Wildcats reacts after scoring a basket against the Florida Atlantic Ow...

Kellan Olson

Wildcats guard Caleb Love has supporters on Suns in Bradley Beal, Kevin Durant

Arizona Wildcats guard Caleb Love has a big brother in Suns guard Bradley Beal and a fan in Suns forward Kevin Durant.

1 day ago

Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns and Cam Whitmore #7 of the Houston Rockets are separated after ...

Kellan Olson

Phoenix Suns grind with Rockets again for home win

For whatever reason, the Houston Rockets have a way of making things ugly for the Phoenix Suns.

2 days ago

The if of the 5th: New Suns wing Nassir Little still has 3-and-D upside