In these frustratingly uncertain of times, writing about something like basketball seems pretty trivial. We all have more questions than there seems to be answers for: questions related to health concerns, distancing concerns, political concerns, economic concerns - you name it. Questions about sports (as in “if/when they are even coming back in the summer, fall, or beyond) in our society are pretty low on the list of important or prioritized concerns at the moment.
But this is a professional basketball blog; I’m not here (because I’m nowhere near equipped nor qualified) to even attempt to try and tackle the unprecedented problems the world currently faces. We’re here for you at Orlando Pinstriped Post to try and provide a short-term getaway/distraction in any way that we can.
For me, that’s talking the NBA Draft. It goes without saying that the process leading up to the NBA Draft this year will be unlike any other players, agents, scouts, and league executives have ever experienced. I would assume the league passes on holding a pre-draft combine. With travel basically coming to a halt, teams likely won’t have the benefit of bringing prospects in for workouts/interviews. Advanced scouting (through March) and film-study appear to be avenues teams will have to heavily rely upon with this draft.
I mean, at this point, we don’t even know if there will be an NBA Draft in June (could it possibly be postponed, re-scheduled?). There is still so much to be determined regarding the immediate future of the NBA (finishing this season or not, possible abbreviated playoffs, etc.). Without the information or guidance to answer many of these basketball related questions, I’m going to push forward with scouting reports of players in this class that could be available when the Magic pick in the first round of the ‘20 NBA Draft (although, we don’t know at this time when that pick will be made - I assume somewhere in the 15-16 range).
I will be putting these reports together over the next couple of months (and possibly longer), which include loose NBA comparisons for each prospect, film observations, talking points, a case for the Magic needing/drafting the prospect, and more. Up next is an intriguing prospect who chose to take an alternative post-high school basketball journey, opting to play professionally in New Zealand/Australia (rather than attend college and go the one-and-done route) - combo-guard and former five-star recruit RJ Hampton.
Probably won’t happen comparison: Zach LaVine (similar body-types, Hampton has less vertical ability, will his shooting develop to LaVine’s level?)
Possibly could happen comparisons: Spencer Dinwiddie, Dante Exum, Will Barton
Eye in the Sky
— Long-strider, able to get into the paint with one to two dribbles off a screen from well behind the arc
— Very lean, but I can see him becoming a problem off the bounce when his body develops (utilizes crossover/hesitation dribbles)
— Has some secondary play-making ability for sure, not sure he makes advanced enough reads to be the lone lead-guard
— Displays legitimate potential initiating pick-and-roll offense
— Has a second (and third) gear in transition, NBA-level foot-speed. He’s a lot of fun in transition
— I think his feel for the game, instincts are underrated (considering his age)
— Shot-mechanics need some work, especially his lower-half (and steps leading into his shot)
— Game needs a lot of fine-tuning (what teenager’s game doesn’t?), but his style of play (long strides, shifty ball-handling, play-making ability) seems to fit the NBA really well
Best films of the season
September 26th vs. Sydney: 18 points
October 31st vs. Cairns: 18 points
Resume & By the Numbers
- Two gold medals playing for Team USA (2017 FIBA U16 Americas Championship, 2018 FIBA U17 World Cup)
- Was a junior in high school during the ‘18-’19 season (Gatorade Player of the Year in Texas), re-classified to the Class of ‘19 (skipping his senior year in high school)
- Five-star recruit ranked #5 in ESPN’s “2019 ESPN 100”, ahead of many others in this draft class (LaMelo Ball, Onyeka Okongwu, Tyrese Maxey, Precious Achiuwa, Nico Mannion, Jaden McDaniels, Josh Green, etc.)
- Opted for the National Basketball League (NBL) over playing in college, landed in New Zealand playing for the Breakers (through the NBL’s “Next Star” program)
- Averaged 8.8 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 2.4 assists (20.6 minutes per game) in 15 games
- Scored in double-figures six times for the Breakers, five or more rebounds in a game five times, five or more assists in a game twice, logged 25+ minutes in a game on four occasions
- Missed a few weeks of NBL action with a hip injury
1) Playing “up”
The numbers Hampton put up during his brief stint in the NBL may not jump off the page, but just think about the leap this young has made recently.
And I mean very recently. It was just last year that he was a junior in high school. Following his ‘18-’19 campaign, a season that saw Hampton average 32.0 points per game (en route to Player of the Year honors in the Texas), the young guard re-classified to the Class of 2019 (ending his high school career).
Instead of signing with a top college basketball program (and taking the one-and-done path), Hampton opted to sign a two-year contract (with an NBA opt-out clause) with the New Zealand Breakers. Fellow ‘19 lead guard LaMelo Ball followed Hampton to the NBL, making his announcement a few weeks later.
In less than twelve months, Hampton went from competing against sixteen and seventeen year-old kids to battling professionals that were 6-12 years older than him. The NBL is not the NBA, but it is a league comprised of talented grown men, many of whom starred at the collegiate-level in the NCAA.
I think it’s important to remember how quickly things have moved in Hampton’s life this past year, from Little Elm, Texas to the Oceania; his play should be assessed on a bit of a curve (and to be honest, I like how he’s pushed himself against older/stronger players).
2) Playing in transition
Enjoy the following tweets that showcase what Hampton can do in the open floor.
Another impressive showing for RJ Hampton against Melbourne: 16 PTS on 12 shots to go along with 7 REB and 2 AST in 26 MIN. So dynamic in transition and attacking closeouts. Hampton's last 4 games: 14.25 PTS, 6 REB, 2 AST, 1.75 STL in 25.6 MIN while shooting 62 2P%, 47 3P%. pic.twitter.com/dLJPXk0B6L— Mike Schmitz (@Mike_Schmitz) November 7, 2019
Whew, RJ Hampton. Snags the board, pushes on the break and busts out a quick spin move for the bucket pic.twitter.com/JHtBo0CWz1— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) April 14, 2020
Really like this transition possession from RJ Hampton, patient and intelligent pulling two defenders and waiting to hook the pass to his teammate pic.twitter.com/CCMu0kN4QN— Max Carlin (@maxacarlin) March 24, 2020
Imagine that kind of explosiveness running alongside Markelle Fultz in the same back-court for the next half decade. It sure would be a lot of fun...
Hampton will need some time to improve his shooting stroke, body, and overall defensive craft before he can be counted on to play regular rotational minutes in the NBA. But early on at least, making plays in transition is where Hampton will likely find success. He can sprint-and-jump at a high-level, score the basketball, or even make a play for a teammate (with what I consider to be relatively strong instincts/feel).
Combine those abilities with his long strides and emerging handle, and Hampton fits the mold of a player that was “born to run”.
3) Playing Defense
Hampton is not going to be an impact defender in the NBA right away. That’s usually the case for the majority of teenagers who make a relatively quick leap from prep competition to the top basketball league in the world.
The legitimate question is - will he ever be a solid NBA defender? Hampton has quick feet and plus-athleticism. It’s definitely possible; his 6-5 frame, to go along with a 6-7 wingspan, is a good start when considering Hampton’s defensive possibilities.
But I have my concerns. I think Hampton plays a little bit too upright. That’s a poor habit that will need to be corrected at the NBA-level as soon as possible. Because the 19 year-old Hampton is still rather thin (I think his body will fill out, adding strength will be helpful), playing too upright is going to allow veteran NBA guards to get into his body and push him off spots.
Especially when Hampton is playing off the ball, his overall defensive attentiveness comes across on film as a bit lackadaisical (again, maybe because he plays defense too vertically and on his heels).
I think he will fine at the beginning of his career defending smaller guards in isolation situations, but it will be a struggle for Hampton to defend pick-and-roll initiators, as well as stronger off the ball guards (that play with added physicality).
Making a case for the Magic to draft RJ Hampton in the ‘20 Draft
With D.J. Augustin and Michael Carter-Williams set to hit free agency
this summer, would Hampton provide the Magic with needed depth at the
point guard position?
With Evan Fournier's decision to possibly opt out of his contract and
become an unrestricted free agent this summer looming, would Hampton
provide the Magic with needed depth at a wing position?
The Magic ranked 28th in the league in eFG% last season, 27th in
scoring, 27th in field goal percentage, 25th in three-point field goal
percentage, and 24th in Offensive Rating. Could Hampton potentially
help the Magic in any of these areas?
|Does Hampton fit the Jeff Weltman/John Hammond archetype?||YES|
Would selecting Hampton in the middle of the first round be considered
a BPA/value pick?
Through the three drafts that Orlando’s current executive team has been in charge (led by Jeff Weltman: President of Basketball Operations, John Hammond: General Manager), the Magic have been painstakingly predictable with the type of players they’ve targeted. Weltman and Hammond value character first and foremost. They also seem to be infatuated with wingspan/length (Isaac, Iwundu, Bamba, Frazier Jr., Okeke) and defensive positional versatility (maybe not Bamba so much, but holds true for the other guys).
I put together a Magic-specific draft checklist above, and drafting RJ Hampton would help Orlando address a few areas of need. First of all, the Magic will likely need to bring in a point guard (or two) in the off-season due to the fact that both of their current back-up point guards will be free agents at the conclusion of this season. The organization can address this probable need through the draft, or possibly through free agency (mid-level exception). Secondly, the Magic could find themselves a little thin on the wing if potential free agent Evan Fournier decides to opt out of the final year of his current contract.
With Hampton still being such a raw, projectable prospect at this point, it’s somewhat hard to predict exactly where he could help Orlando. For defensive reasons, I think Hampton will end up playing a lot of point guard minutes early on in his career. The Magic could certainly use some depth at the position, but will Hampton be ready to play 18-20 minutes a night in the regular rotation right away? I think he could help the organization from the wing as well, but that’s dependent upon Hampton continuing to develop his jump shot (and adding a considerable amount of strength to his frame).
What I am sure of is that Orlando’s executive team is very comfortable drafting a prospect with patience and development in mind. In one way or another, the Magic decision-makers have made selections in the recent past (Isaac, Bamba, Okeke) under the premise of “long-term upside” over a player’s ability to contribute to the team right away.
At the spot where the Magic will likely be drafting from (middle of the first round), Weltman and Hammond would have to take a long look at Hampton’s upside (if the Texas-native were to fall that far), considering he would probably fit the “best player available” label at that point.
There will be other prospects potentially available at this spot who will be more ready to contribute right away than Hampton. However, if his shot-making abilities and defensive habits improve (to go along with his speed, handle, and play in transition), then you could certainly make an argument that Hampton would prove to be a steal for the Orlando organization by the end of his rookie contract.
Aaron Goldstone has been writing for Orlando Pinstriped Post since 2017. You can follow him on Twitter at @AaronGoldstone.
You can also find his scouting report of Kira Lewis, Jr. here.