Lost amid the Saturday fanfare of Enes Kanter grabbing a franchise-record 30 rebounds against Detroit was a change to the Trail Blazers’ rotation that caught even the players by surprise.
Coach Terry Stotts used Nassir Little at shooting guard and boosted his playing time to 24 minutes during the Blazers’ 118-103 victory over Detroit. Stotts said he made the move as an attempt to improve the team’s lackluster defense, a weakness that is threatening to define and derail this season.
Little, a second-year forward who this season is listed at 6-foot-5 after being called 6-foot-6 in his rookie campaign, thrived in his new role, helping the Blazers outscore Detroit by 15 in his 24 minutes. Little hit all five of his shots, scored 11 points and defended guards Frank Jackson, Saben Lee and Hamidou Diallo.
“We’ll be doing it again,” Stotts said. “He still has to learn some of the tricks of the trade as far as guarding perimeter players — coming off pin downs, guarding pick and rolls — but I think he is capable of doing that and we have to continue to see how he does in that role.”
The move essentially phases out guard Anfernee Simons and threatens an already shrinking role for forward Derrick Jones Jr., while showing the urgency in which Stotts is trying to plug the Blazers’ leaky defense, which ranks 29th out of the NBA’s 30 teams.