Everything You Need To Know About R.J. Hampton

Despite having a disappointing season, R.J. Hampton's defense, athleticism, and playmaking upside should still make him a first-round pick.

R.J. Hampton initially made headlines after he committed to playing in New Zealand instead of going to college for a year. Now, the 19-year-old aspires for his next headline to be a first-round draft pick in the 2020 NBA Draft.

Once viewed as an easy top-ten pick, the former fifth-ranked recruit, per ESPN, is now experiencing some of the most diverse projections in this draft. While going overseas for a season may help Hampton’s long-term development, it has hurt him in the short term.

After battling injuries, inconsistent shooting, and defensive lapses, Hampton has found himself landing all across draft boards. Some scouts still have him as an early lottery pick, while others have him falling to the middle of the second round.

Hampton is far from a polished player, but his athleticism, scoring upside, and playmaking potential are too promising to let slide out of the first round. Even though Hampton didn’t have an ideal season, he still showed plenty that should excite fans.

One of Hampton’s most distinct traits is his speed and grace in the open floor. Hampton doesn’t have the same top-end speed of Kira Lewis, but the way he accelerates, glides to the rim, and hangs in the air is reminiscent of De’Aaron Fox.

Due to his athleticism, Hampton is eager to run in transition, as we can see below. Once Hampton secures the rebound, he immediately looks to run. Hampton promptly beats the first man using his speed, which is the easy part. Now, we get to the fun part. By not hesitating, Hampton can more easily manipulate the retreating defender. As Hampton approaches the three-point line, he starts to chop his steps, which doesn’t betray his intentions or allow the defender to get set. Then, Hampton executes a perfect Euro-step to avoid the defender while having the strength to finish through the contact.

Hampton’s speed is most effective in transition, but it also allows him to take full advantage of mismatches in the half-court offense. Here, we see Hampton do just that. As Hampton receives the pass, the defense is slow to rotate. Hampton begins his drive, but instead of rashly driving into the dropping defender, Hampton pulls the ball back out to take advantage of the opposing big man. This decision is a flash of maturity and awareness that Hampton didn’t always show this season. After he dribbles out, Hampton toys with his defender before accelerating to the rim.

When looking to score, Hampton’s speed is a crucial asset to his game. Unfortunately, Hampton’s scoring impact will be limited early in his career, so he must continue his quality playmaking. Due to Hampton’s athleticism, defenses tend to collapse on his drives. As he improves his finishing consistency, his gravity will only grow.

The critical development with Hampton’s drives, however, is his ability to pass out of them. Here, Hampton does an excellent job of penetrating and then finding the open shooter. Hampton’s defender initially cheats earlier towards the screen. Hampton abuses this poor positioning by exploding past him into the lane and forcing the weakside rotations. I’m not typically a fan of jump passes, but when there is just one defender left to beat, it can be a useful move to get the defense to commit. As Hampton leaves the ground, he stares down the corner shooter to move the weakside defender. Once the defender commits to the rotation, Hampton kicks the ball out to the elbow to the open shooter.

Hampton has always shown the ability to create in space and use his athleticism, but a fascinating development in his game has been his playmaking out of the pick-and-roll. He isn’t perfect in this area of the game yet and likely won’t be used as a primary initiator immediately in his career. Still, this season he showed notable growth in his navigation of the pick-and-roll.

In this clip, Hampton looks very comfortable running the pick-and-roll. After his defender initially gets through the screen unscathed, Hampton resets and calls for the screen again. Since defenders rarely go under the screen twice, Hampton can get his defender on his hip once he drives. Hampton’s drive and hang dribble keep the screener’s defender in limbo. Unsure if he should switch, recover to his man, or drop to the rim, the opposing big man struggles to contain Hampton’s drive. Hampton swiftly beats him and fires a live-dribble pass to the corner shooter.

Hampton’s athleticism creates a lot of opportunities to score or find teammates when he drives. Unfortunately, it doesn’t help his shooting woes at all. This season, Hampton was in the 27th percentile on catch-and-shoot jumpers and the 7th percentile in all dribble jumpers, per Synergy.

Hampton’s offensive impact will be significantly diluted until he forces defenses to respect his jumper. If he continues to miss the ocean from the shore, defenses can just sag off him, allowing them to contain his drives easily.

Hampton’s shooting mechanics aren’t unfixable, but they do require a lot of work. Additionally, Hampton doesn’t trust his jumper as he passes up open shots and is visibly thrown off when defenses go under screens.

It is very early in his professional career, but in the below clip, we Hampton take an atrocious three. As Hampton receives the handoff, his defender shows no intention of fighting over the screen. Instead of stepping into the wide-open shot, Hampton is thrown off and hesitates. He proceeds to take one dribble so he can shoot a step-back three. This move allows the defender to contest and results in a flat release.

A shot selection like that will drive coaches crazy. Instead of taking the open, in rhythm three, Hampton hesitated and took an unnecessary step-back three.

Here, we see a better shot selection from Hampton, but genuinely awful mechanics. In this clip, Hampton dribbles off of two screens, and the defense goes under on both, clearly not respecting Hampton’s jumper. As Hampton comes off the second screen, though, he at least recognizes how open he is and takes the jumper. Unfortunately, his mechanics are a mess, and he never has a chance of making it. Besides a slightly flat release, there isn’t anything glaringly wrong with the top half of his shot. The real issues arise with his footwork and base. As he enters his shot, Hampton’s left foot is ahead of his right foot despite being a right-handed shooter. Additionally, he has an incredibly narrow base.

The most significant improvement that Hampton needs to make is his shooting mechanics. He doesn’t need to be Trae Young, and he never will be, but he needs to give himself at least a chance of making a shot. Currently, defenses won’t respect him enough to go over screens, which drastically limits his on-ball impact. Since he isn’t a reliable off-ball shooter either, Hampton’s overall offensive effect rapidly dwindles.

Hampton’s immediate impact will come on the defensive end, though. Hampton’s defensive mechanics betray him at times, but his overall athleticism and effort level should make him an above-average defender.

With better coaching, I expect defensive lapses, as we see below, to be less frequent. Hampton eventually has a decent contest on the shot, but his mechanics at the start are less than ideal. As his man begins his dribble, Hampton isn’t down in a stance and is hunched over, limiting his ability to cut off the drive. Hampton stays with his man using his athleticism alone, but this is not a shot he should be allowing an opponent seven inches shorter than him.

Thankfully, those examples aren’t commonplace, but instead an occasional lapse that can be corrected. Instead, Hampton’s on-ball defense more frequently looks like the below clip.

Here, Hampton is low in his stance, with his hand up, and quickly adapts. Hampton’s man initiates his drive, but Hampton quickly switches his hips, slides his feet, and cuts off the drive because of his low defensive position. Hampton then does an excellent job of absorbing the contact and recovering to contest the shot.

This is the defensive effort that coaches will demand from Hampton from day one. He has the athleticism and work rate for it; he just needs to be consistent on every play.

Hampton isn’t a perfect defender. He has lapses with his stance and occasionally misses a rotation and gets hit by every screen, but his overall effort is undeniable. He continually works to recover and is always fighting to make a play.

Here, we see Hampton guard LaMelo Ball through a handoff. Hampton is initially dislodged by the screen, like he is by every screen, but isn’t deterred. He is fortunate that Ball takes a rounded path to the lane, but regardless, Hampton doesn’t die on the screen. Instead, he recovers back between his man and the rim, which allows him to stay vertical and force the turnover.

Again, we see Hampton’s determination not to get beat on defense. He initially gets leveled by a screen (it’s shocking how bad he is at avoiding these) but refuses to give up an easy basket. Instead of meandering back like so many would, Hampton sprints to the rim and explodes to block what should have been an easy layup.

Hampton still has a lot of growth to do defensively, but he has a great foundation. His athleticism and eagerness to defend already set him apart from most young guards on that end. Once he eliminates the occasional lapses and learns how to avoid a screen, his defensive impact will skyrocket.

Going forward, Hampton won’t be the franchise guard some projected him as out of high school. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a role, though. Early in his career, Hampton will likely be used as an athletic combo guard off the bench.

He isn’t a reliable enough scorer or consistent enough playmaker to be used as a primary ball-handler yet. However, he can be valuable if he can create off the bounce or get in the open floor. Ideally, he will find a situation with a more offensive-minded guard who will complement his defensive ability. While R.J. Hampton doesn’t look like the early lottery pick some initially imagined, there is no reason he should fall out of the first round of the 2020 NBA Draft.

Like what you've read? Share it with your friends on      or  

Go ad-free by supporing Hashtag Basketball on Patreon for $2/mo

More Information

Premium Fantasy Basketball Tools

Import Yahoo & Fantrax leagues and analyze them with our free tools.

More information

2020 NBA Draft Prospects

Meet the top 60 prospects of the 2020 NBA Draft.

More information