Last year, the basketball world waited anxiously for one of the top high school players in the country to make his college announcement. RJ Hampton, a 6'5" athletic guard out of Texas, was one of the top prizes remaining of the high school class and was being heavily recruited by a number of notable schools. Hampton shocked the basketball world, announcing on ESPN that he would forego College and take his talents overseas to play for the New Zealand Breakers of the NBL in Australia.
While the decision caught the hoop world by surprise, some were excited to see how Hampton would hold up overseas. The NBL is known as a tough, physical league that has continued to blossom each year with an improving level of play. It was shortly announced after that Hampton wouldn't be the only 2020 eligible NBA Draft prospect to play in the NBL, as LaMelo Ball implied his intentions to play for the Illawarra Hawks. Both players were going to face similar questions. Hampton and Ball are known for their playmaking ability but both are also known as being a bit thin-framed.
Fast forward to today and the reviews are mixed when it comes to Hampton's experience overseas. Some say that Hampton showed plenty of potential for the next level despite his lack of production. It's important to note that RJ's team was a much stronger roster compared to fellow potential lottery pick LaMelo Ball. The NZ Breakers roster featured a number of former NBA or NBA G-League players such as Brandon Ashley and Scotty Hopson. Hampton would miss a majority of the season while recovering from a hip injury, but there's still plenty of film to break down.
CHANGE OF GEARS
If there's a skill set that's going to transition smoothly when it comes to Hampton's NBA potential, it's his speed. RJ has the speed and change of gears of a Ferrari on a Sunday stroll. Here we see Hampton off to the races in transition. Notice how he loses control a bit of the ball but quickly recovers and uses hesitations to set up his defender. Easy two.
This is similar to when Vin Diesel hit the NOS button in Fast and The Furious. Hampton secures the defensive board here and then turns on the boosters. An impressive job here by Hampton of showing the confidence and ability to take the drive right into the defender. Speed is one of the easiest things to translate into the NBA, especially for a young raw talent like Hampton.
Hampton makes his living when he's taking advantage of his elite athleticism. Although his offensive arsenal is still a bit raw, there's plenty to be excited about. When RJ is at his best, it's in the P&R game...in which just the smallest window can lead to defenses playing catch up. It doesn't take much of an opening before RJ can hit the "turbo button" and zoom past a line of defenders. Here we see Hampton setting up potential number one overall selection LaMelo Ball in a P&R opportunity. Hampton gets LaMelo guessing about where he's going to go and before Ball realizes it, RJ has hit the boosters and flies through the lane for an impressive finish.
The blow-by speed that this kid has is ridiculous. The thing that jumps out to me early in this possession is the limited amount of real estate that Hampton has to work with. Some nice footwork early on by RJ to set up his defender. As stated before, all RJ needs is a little window to operate. Hampton realizes that he has the secondary defender out of position as well and takes advantage of the breakdown. Easy slam.
Again another quick look at Hampton's ability to get downhill and score. Although this clip might be similar to the previous ones, I'm looking at something more specific here. Notice the defender and RJ's ability to react to the simple movements. Right before this screen is set, you'll see the defender start to cheat. Once RJ notices this, he explodes the other direction and does a beautiful job of finishing across the lane.
Footwork and agility like this don't come around often. There's no doubt in my mind that some NBA team is going to be foaming at the mouth to get their developmental staff to work with Hampton. If someone plays the "long term" approach with RJ, they could have themselves a winning lottery ticket. Notice how quickly Hampton gets from 0 to 100 (shout out Drake) once he catches this pass. Before the defense knows what hit them, Hampton already blew by two defenders and is soaring for an easy lay-in.
This is the type of play that will have NBA Front Offices circling back to seriously discuss if they want to invest in Hampton's upside for the foreseeable future. Hampton can get to his top gear with relative ease and when he's in and out of secondary moves, he doesn't lose a lot of agility. Look how smooth he is when he crosses over to attack the middle of the lane. Also important to notice the scoreboard here. With NZ trailing late in this one, they needed a quick bucket and that's just what RJ can do.
Hampton's outside shot is a lot better than you might assume after looking at his numbers this year. RJ went on to shoot 29.5% from downtown, as well as 67.9% from the free-throw line. While it might scare some, Hampton's mechanics offer some optimism as someone who has the potential to flip those numbers around down the road. His mechanics are promising but lack consistency. An NBA organization can be convinced that some upper body training and repetition could be the key to unlocking the treasure chest. This will be a big discussion when teams evaluate Hampton's potential. If someone believes they can unlock Hampton's jump shot, they could find themselves landing a sensational talent.
CATCH AND SHOOT
Another look at Hampton's ability in a catch and shoot situation. Although consistency will be the major question mark, I like the display of confidence in which Hampton shoots it with. The footwork will need some fine-tuning, but Hampton should blossom with reps and additional upper body strength. With his ability to become a threat in transition, if Hampton can also add the deep ball threat...he's going to transition nicely at the NBA level.
This might be one of my favorite sequences while watching RJ Hampton this year in the NBL. Hampton does a great job of attacking the defensive glass and ripping the rebound away from the opposing big. Once he secures the possession he's off to the races. RJ is under control here, showing us he's surveying the floor and reading the defensive ahead of himself. While it might look like he doesn't have an advantage here, RJ does a beautiful job of setting up the defender with a spin dribble for a beautiful lay-in.
When it comes to his ability as a playmaker, I felt intrigued by the potential for RJ at the next level. He's not the flashiest passer, but RJ does a nice job of reading and reacting to the defense. Here's a good example of that, as Hampton feels out the defense collapsing on his dribble-drive. Once Hampton creates the collapse, he's able to kick out to the top of the key for a wide-open deep ball.
DEFENSIVE POTENTIAL AND HUSTLE
Probably one of the most famous clips for Hampton because of the competition. This is the first matchup in the NBL between Hampton and LaMelo Ball. You can see that Illawarra was running an action to get a Ball a back pick and lead to a potential easy lay-in. RJ gets caught up on the screen here, which is an area in which he will need to improve at the next level. Notice the recovery burst and athleticism to block Ball's shot at it's the highest point. From there, RJ runs the break and does a great job of delivering a dump-off pass to his teammate for an in rhythm three-pointer. Hampton's hustle and effort jump off the screen. He might make some mistakes because he's simply trying to do too much. There could be worse problems to have. Having a prospect that's lacking effort is always concerning, but having one that might be trying too hard? That can please coaching staffs and the front office's as an issue that pleasantly can be fixed.
It's been an interesting process over the year for RJ Hampton. While his numbers won't blow you away, I think there's more to the puzzle. Personally, I am always a believer in production over potential. But when it comes to Hampton, that argument might differ. Hampton has an elite trait going his way...his speed. It's something that will help him at the next level, as he adjusts to the jump in competition. While his offensive versatility still needs to come together, there's more than enough intriguing skills about RJ's game that I believe will have an NBA organization willing to go all-in on the athletic combo guard. With Hampton's speed and high effort playstyle, don't be surprised if a team is more than convinced they can hit on a player like RJ Hampton.