Since the draft lottery, there has been much discussion amongst Knicks fans as to what the most ideal outcome could be on the night of the actual draft. With this year's class being considered one of the weaker ones in recent draft history, it's been quite the task to review each and every possible selection the Knicks have been linked to, because there's a lot. There's really not one set prospect that is far and away the best, especially within the range of the 8th pick, but that just makes things more interesting I suppose. Having the draft moved back even further than it already was also doesn't really help when it comes to speculation, because what else are bored Knicks fans to do in the off-season but over-analyze draft prospects? One of the upcoming draftees that I find most intriguing for the Knicks, though, is RJ Hampton.
In a perfect scenario, if the Knicks truly wanted Hampton they could trade down from the 8th pick to a spot in which they feel he'd still be available while simultaneously getting back other assets. Alternatively, they could also package the 27th + 38th pick and some other assets to try and move up while also keeping their spot at 8, where they'd most likely select a wing like Devin Vassell or Isaac Okoro. But do they have to make these moves to justify the pick, or does RJ Hampton have the talent and potential to warrant being selected 8th overall?
After only a 3-year career at Little Elm High School in Texas, Hampton, the only unsigned 5-star recruit left of his class at the time, chose to forgo his senior season. However, to many people's surprise, this decision wasn't so he could attend college a year early. Instead, RJ chose to go the overseas route, signing with the New Zealand Breakers of the National Basketball League in May of 2019. It would be in New Zealand where he saw his draft stock take a bit of a hit.
Overall, most would say that Hampton's time spent in the NBL was underwhelming. In the 15 games he played this past season for the Breakers, RJ averaged 8.8 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists in 20.6 minutes while shooting 40.7% from the field, 29.5% from beyond the arc and 67.9% on free throws. And that was all she wrote for RJ Hampton in the NBL. Pretty lackluster at face value, right? After suffering a hip flexor injury while playing in December 2019, Hampton was expected to be sidelined for up to 4 weeks, but would make it back in time for the team's final regular-season game if rehabilitation went according to plan. However, Hampton and the Breakers organization came to the conclusion that it would be best for the prospect to return home to the US in order to continue his rehabbing and pre-NBA draft process.
But what did those 15 games look like beyond the stats? What does RJ actually look like as a player? Standing at 6'5" with a slender 185-pound frame and 6'7" wingspan, Hampton is an explosive athlete with elite speed both in the open court and off the dribble. His speed makes up for his lack of a tight handle when it comes to getting by defenders, but he's going to have to show substantial improvement in his dribbling if he wants to get by NBA-level defenders on a regular basis. There have been moments we've seen from him where he seems like a capable playmaker, using his athleticism and handle to get to the correct spot and make the right play for his teammate, though it'll still be a while before he's carving up NBA defenses, if ever. He doesn't have the natural court vision of a pure point guard and is slow to react on some plays but he's shown to be a capable ball-handler in the pick and roll, averaging 0.94 points per PnR possession (64th percentile). Most of the time he'll make a solid pass to a teammate, but rarely sees a play before it actually happens, leading to some forced passes and turnovers. For a guard, RJ has a pretty good ability to finish at the rim, but relies much too heavily on his right hand, shooting only 10% (3 of 30) of his shots at the rim with his left during his time in the NBL. So what is it about Hampton that would make the Knicks consider him with the 8th pick?
I previously mentioned that RJ didn't shoot well from beyond the arc during his time in the NBL, having shot just 29.5% from three. However, regardless of that percentage, there are reasons to buy the shot going into the future. He has sound mechanics with no hitch and a good follow-through, and also has a pretty good shot IQ, not playing outside of his capabilities much. But what most stands out about his shot is the inconsistent base, where what he does with his legs varies from shot to shot. On some attempts, he'll bring his legs in very close together and then kick out his right leg while going up on the shot, thus creating an inconsistent rhythm. One thing that he has been doing to fix this issue is getting in the gym with former NBA champion and current Memphis Tigers assistant coach Mike Miller, a career 40.7% three-point shooter in the league. The videos linked below show the two in the gym together working on Hampton's shot, showing improved, but not yet perfected mechanics.
(via Mike Miller's Twitter, obviously)
Miller himself has this to say about RJ's shooting potential in the NBA:
"I really truly believe that in two to three years, he’ll be a high 30s to low 40s 3-point shooter. And if he does that, he’s a multi-time All-Star and will write his own script because he has so many other things that you can’t teach. I’m proud of where he’s come. It’s night-and-day where he was and where he is now."
A guard that can really shoot the ball is something that the Knicks have needed for years, and while it may be a gamble to go with Hampton over some of the more refined shooters in this draft like a Vassell or Nesmith, the potential is there in other parts of his game that might make taking a chance on RJ worthwhile while the shooting is still coming along, especially in such an unsure draft. Of course, there are still questions about his defense, where he has questionable footwork and is prone to losing his man off-ball, but he has the physical tools to perhaps be a good defender someday. It's really more of an effort thing with him most of the time where it seems he just checks out if his man doesn't have the ball, losing them behind a screen or allowing the backdoor cut. That could be a potential red flag, but here's hoping that Tom Thibodeau and company would be able to bring out the fire in him on that end of the court. If the shooting truly does come along, Hampton could be a great fit in the backcourt with the RJ that New York already has, RJ Barrett, who strives in spacing. Barrett is at his best when he has room to operate in the paint, and that's something the Knicks did not make easy this past season with the roster they surrounded him with. Addressing this issue should be at the top of their list.
It remains to be seen whether or not the work that RJ Hampton is putting into his overall game will carry over to the NBA level, but those around him seem to think it will. Is it worth taking the risk on him at 8, though? I'll leave that up to you.
Holden Gumb (author) on October 03, 2020:
Thank you very much!
Luke Katz on October 03, 2020:
Well written and great information, stats seem alittle low for me in a lesser league to take him but we’ll see what happens in November. Great article!
Morgan Freeman on October 03, 2020:
A regular citizen who reports seeing a crime isn't a "snitch" or a "rat," the criminals were just sloppy
Snitches and rats are not the same thing, let me break it down to make sure y'all see what I mean
A "snitch" is someone minding other folks' business
To find information they can sell for a price or trade for some other form of compensation
A "rat" is a traitor, a conceiver, planner or physical participator
He doesn't sell secrets for power or cash, he betrays the trust of his team or his family hoping to save his own cowardly ass
The difference is, at least a snitch is human, but a rat is a fuckin' rat, period