R.J. Hampton’s offensive upside makes him a lottery-level NBA Draft prospect

ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 24: Rj Hampton of the Breakers competes with Jerome Randle of the 36ers during the round 8 NBL match between the Adelaide 36ers and the New Zealand Breakers at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre on November 24, 2019 in Adelaide, Australia. (Photo by Mark Brake/Getty Images)
ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 24: Rj Hampton of the Breakers competes with Jerome Randle of the 36ers during the round 8 NBL match between the Adelaide 36ers and the New Zealand Breakers at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre on November 24, 2019 in Adelaide, Australia. (Photo by Mark Brake/Getty Images) /

With an injury-shortened season in Australia’s NBL, R.J. Hampton has been mostly out-of-sight, out-of-mind as an NBA Draft prospect. He’s worth another look.

R.J. Hampton is enshrouded in shadows — the shadow of LaMelo Ball and his status not only as a prospect but as a basketball celebrity, the shadow of other high profile international prospects like Killian Hayes and Deni Avdija, the shadow of one of the better domestic pro leagues in the world

Hampton still finds ways to stand out and, when put under a microscope, makes clear that he’s a legitimate lottery talent and a prospect worth more attention than he receives. Like Ball, Hampton decided to eschew the NCAA in favor of the Australian NBL in a move that will surely set a precedent for young players for years to come.

Though a hip flexor injury ended Hampton’s season early, it’s safe to say his leap of faith down under paid off, as he proved himself a legitimate contributor for the New Zealand Breakers as a teenager and has generated some mainstream interest as a lotto talent.

Approaching the 2020 NBA draft, Hampton finds himself amongst a glut of talented guards at the top, alongside Anthony Edwards, Hayes, Ball, Tyrese Maxey, Cole Anthony, Tyrese Haliburton. Unlike almost all of the aforementioned names, Hampton doesn’t boast a definably elite trait: for example, Edwards’ athleticism, Ball’s passing, or Maxey’s floater.

Yet, Hampton is a legitimately good prospect due to his well rounded offensive profile, his baseline of skills and athletic tools and how those correspond with his age and solid play overseas.

Hampton’s primary NBA skill at the moment is his slashing. A strong driving athlete, Hampton’s burst, flexibility and body control let him penetrate NBL defenses and score. He’s explosively fast attacking from the perimeter, his body low on drives with excellent shin angling and ankle flexibility and his torso near parallel with the ground. A technically sound driver, Hampton covers swathes of ground with long strides, maneuvering to his right hand and finishing:

With time and space, Hampton can rise off of two feet for emphatic finishes above the rim. Here, a tight double crossover frees Hampton baseline where he elevates for a dunk:

Aside from his frame and general strength, Hampton’s other biggest athletic weakness is his inability to leap off of one foot, especially in the half-court. This limits his finishing ability as Hampton can’t explode through contact and has to resort to other means of getting the ball in the hoop.

Given Hampton’s leaping off of two feet in the open floor, developing lower body strength and improving his one-foot pop seems like a plausible avenue to athletic development. But for now, his vertical pop in the half-court is a limiter on his finishing; he barely gets the ball above the rim here and misses anyways:

Compared to his NBL opponents, Hampton’s finishing was abysmal, placing in the ninth percentile. However, it is important to contextualize these numbers, especially when comparing with other prospects in the NCAA in order to adjust for competition.

Throwing percentiles aside, Hampton shot 53.3 percent at the rim this season in the half-court. That’s a solid figure given his level of competition and obvious finishing ability on tape. For comparison, Marcus Zegarowski shot 53.2 percent at the rim, placing in the 52nd percentile at the rim among NCAA players (granted Zegarowski has a much larger sample size).

Against professional athletes, Hampton’s strength and vertical explosion are major limiting factors at the basket, as he often doesn’t have the juice to get the ball in the bucket. Those physical limitations lead to Hampton’s bad contact-avoidance habit, where he’ll go to great lengths to avoid taking contact at the rim. He’s also incredibly right hand dominant, often to his own disadvantage.

In the clips below, note the great lengths Hampton takes to avoid blows, along with his inability to get off of the ground and finish with his left. However, note that four of the five clips are made baskets, exhibiting Hampton’s natural touch, craft (he loves wrong-foot finishes to throw off rim protection) and his body control on some of these Australia’s Got Talent-level contortions:

As the previous clips have shown, Hampton’s handle is at its most effective when he can execute one or two quick moves and knife downhill. As a package, his handle needs work. Hampton’s dribble isn’t dynamic or complex in any way, he often lacks the shake to create advantages in space and his handle is prone to looseness, especially against pressure:

Hampton did flash some handling capability, most effective when he was able to leverage his speed with hesitation moves and decelerations. A hesitation dribble and a subtle head fake gains Hampton all of the advantage he needs to drive and finish, check out the long strides and inside hand layup:

When Hampton blazes down the floor with speed, he’s capable of stopping on a dime to create for his pullup and he’s flashed occasional deception to discombobulate defenders:

Hampton’s second-best skill is his passing and, while he isn’t a proactive passer on the level of LaMelo Ball, he’s adept at many reactive reads necessary for a combo, secondary playmaker type guard. His current lack of scoring gravity along with his lack of advanced, vision limits his passing upside, but Hampton is an objectively good passer.

His best pass at the moment is this skip pass, where Hampton reads help on the weak side and fires skip passes to the weak corner. Off of his drives, Hampton shows the ability to fire skip passes off of a live dribble into tight windows, a pass more and more playmakers require in their arsenal:

Hampton’s speed is a weapon and he collapses defense when he sprints downhill, forcing rotations. He’s developing into a nice kick-out passer, hugging the baseline and kicking out to shooters who have been abandoned — note the advanced lefty live dribble craft on the first pass:

While Hampton is prone to poor shots in the paint, his decision making is largely positive and Hampton doesn’t force bad shots or passes often. This trait isn’t inherently positive; sometimes Hampton would be better trying more tight-window, high-value passes or showcasing more aggression attacking big men in drop defense.

However, his penchant for strong, quick decisions is important for his projection as a secondary playmaking guard; he posted a 1.7 assist to turnover ratio this NBL season. Many of Hampton’s pick-and-roll reads or dimes off of drives aren’t eye-popping, but they’re smart decisions that foster good offense.

As a pick-and-roll passer, Hampton’s lack of aggression and advanced passes lowers his ceiling, but his consistently snappy and correct decisions raise the floor. Hampton hits the roller and popper early with live dribble passes and lifts to the wing with good timing.

The first three clips below are three straight possessions against Adelaide, who pressured Hampton heavily in the pick-and-roll. On those possessions, he carved up the pressure with great, quick decisions, a pass to the roll man over top, then a bouncer to the short roll, then a lift to the wing:

His decision making prowess pops in transition, where Hampton consistently pushes the ball ahead and makes extra passes:

As mentioned before, Hampton lacks the vision, timing and advanced playmaking instinct necessary to make advanced reads consistently. He misses more easy reads than he should — the weak corner is wide open on the first pass — and he doesn’t make the type of imaginative passes that are hallmarks of elite distributors:

Aside from his limited creation, Hampton’s biggest limiting factor at this point is his jumper. The results were poor in NBL play, shooting 29.4 percent on three attempts per game from 3, with poor effective field goal percentages on catch-and-shoot jumpers (44.4 percent, 27th percentile) and pull-up jumpers (26.1 percent, seventh percentile).

Hampton shot 73.7 percent from the line on 38 attempts, was a similar free throw shooter in EYBL, has visibly good touch and has mechanics that aren’t broken, suggesting some possibility of shooting upside. Hampton needs to shoot spot-ups at a competent rate at the bare minimum to be a passable NBA player and hitting pull-ups raises the ceiling.

Defensively, Hampton is fairly disastrous. Beginning with the positives, his 6-foot-5 frame with a 6-foot-7 wingspan is decent positional size for guarding 1s and some 2s, but he’ll need to get bigger to do so. His offensive athleticism translates to defense with generally quick feet and hips at the point of attack. Hampton’s playmaking instincts run hot and cold, posting a 2.76 steal rate, showing good anticipation and off-ball defense on occasion:

For the most part, Hampton’s defense is troubling. He competed with grown men as a physically underdeveloped 18-year-old, which is worth mentioning. However, the results were often not pretty, as Hampton is a technical nightmare on defense, piling onto his strength and IQ limitations.

Defending the ball, Hampton can slide with attackers when unencumbered. However, he’s catastrophic defending ball-screens, as his combination of weakness, inability to navigate screens and lack of effort allowed offenses to roast Hampton in ball screen actions. If Hampton wasn’t being stonewalled by screeners, he was out of position or giving up on plays:

Circumstances aren’t much rosier for Hampton off of the ball, where, despite his occasional playmaking, his screen navigation, positioning, effort and instinctual issues hurt him. Too frequently, Hampton loses track of his man off of the ball, is late rotating to help, misplaces his help or doesn’t help at all:

It is important to remember how small the sample is for Hampton’s NBL stint, just over 360 total minutes across 17 games. While there is enough data to be useful, lots of it is noisy. Per Player Impact Plus-Minus, Hampton ranks as a slight negative overall, -0.18, grading as a solid negative on offense (-1.14 OPIPM) and a surprisingly solid positive on defense (+0.96 DPIPM).

Hampton has quite a few flaws and lacks an elite skill but his size, athletic tools and baseline of skills makes for an intriguing combo guard prospect, profiling as a secondary playmaker type. Unlike many other guard prospects, he has no weaknesses that are debilitating to the level of others. He’s not a disaster physically like Ball, not an awful decision-maker like Edwards, not a bad athlete like Mannion.

If Hampton’s shot and physical profile don’t improve, then he’s likely not a very good NBA player. However, those are two clear avenues to raise his value and are easier developmentally than if his handle or passing were completely broken. Filling out physically likely improves Hampton’s defense considerably and while he has a ways to go technically and intellectually, most teenagers are bad on those fronts.

Hampton is never going to be a primary initiator on a good team and likely not on a bad one either. What he can be is a viable second or third offensive piece at his peak, a player who can do a bit of everything on offense and could achieve higher-end outcomes if his physicality and shooting develop nicely.

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