LaMelo Ball

R.J. Hampton, LaMelo Ball making case to be Warriors' draft selection

R.J. Hampton, LaMelo Ball making case to be Warriors' draft selection

The Warriors are going to have a very high draft pick. That much seems obvious. What's less obvious is which prospects they might be zeroing in on as the missing piece of Golden State's next championship pursuit.

Some prospects like Memphis' James Wiseman, Georgia's Anthony Edwards and North Carolina's Cole Anthony are all stateside -- Golden State doesn't have to send scouts very far to get a glimpse of any of them.

Two other highly-rated prospects, however, require a far greater trek to evaluate them in person, as 18-year-olds LaMelo Ball and R.J. Hampton currently play in the NBL, Australia's top basketball league. Both players elected to go overseas for their final year of basketball before entering the NBA draft, rather than enroll in a collegiate program or join the G League.

Liam Santamaria is a writer and broadcaster for the NBL, and whereas the Warriors likely haven't had a ton of opportunities to see Ball and Hampton firsthand, Santamaria has had no such issues. So far, he has been blown away by what he has seen from the two young prospects.

"I've been not just impressed with the way they've played and the improvement that they've shown in their game over the course of the season thus far in Australia," Santamaria told NBC Sports Bay Area, "but also just how they've handled themselves on the court with their teammates, in the heat of battle in a professional situation like this."

The two phenoms currently find themselves in quite different scenarios. Ball, playing for the Illawarra Hawks, has far less talent around him than Hampton does on the New Zealand Breakers, where he plays alongside the likes of former NBA players, McDonald's All-Americans and foreign league MVPs. Consequently, Ball fittingly has the rock in his hands more often than Hampton does, which helps explains why Ball's stats are so comparatively eye-popping.

"While he hasn't been putting up the same kind of stat sheet-stuffing performances as LaMelo, I think he's actually been equally as impressive," Santamaria said of Hampton.

Both Ball and Hampton project as guards at the NBA level, but they're different kinds of players.

Ball has a knack for highlight-reel plays, but still needs to round out his game.

"He's obviously a phenomenally talented playmaker, and his feel for the game is incredible," Santamaria described Ball. "And we knew that coming in, but his game still is for the most part pretty raw."

Specifically, Ball's shooting mechanics and defense remain works in progress.

"When he arrived here in Australia and started playing, it looked like he'd never really been taught much of anything about how to defend," Santamaria recalled. "The fundamentals of 1-on-1 containment defense, but also fundamental concepts of playing defense off the ball, five guys defending as one ... just team defensive concepts. And that for me is the area that I think has probably undergone the most rapid improvement because he was almost nonexistent as a defender when he first stepped on Australian shores. Now you can see him taking some big strides in that regard. He's much more engaged at that end of the floor."

Hampton, on the other hand, is more refined at this stage of his young career and has what Santamaria described as better fundamentals than Ball currently possesses. 

"R.J. looks to me like he's a sure-fire certain thing, in terms of panning out to be a really productive pro," Santamaria summarized. "He has a great combination of size, length, athleticism, explosive quickness and basketball IQ."

As Ball and Hampton go through the draft process, they inevitably will be compared to other NBA stars, past and present. Santamaria has already begun that process.

"There's an element of Jason Kidd, for me," he said of Ball's comparison. "Where he just looks like he's got that thing on a string and makes those passes and plays look so easy." 

Santamaria added that Ball particularly reminds him of Kidd when handling the ball in the open court. Ironically, his comparison for Hampton involved another guard who has proven to be exceptional in the open court.

"He doesn't have the kind of strength and the kind of muscular frame yet that [Russell] Westbrook has, but when he gets that ball in the backcourt and starts pounding it, his head's on a swivel offensively and he's super quick attacking, putting heat on the rim," Santamaria said of Hampton. "In those situations, I see elements of Westbrook in his game. If he can become a little stronger and bounce off physicality like Westbrook does, I think that comparison might become more obvious over time."

As such, if the Warriors choose to draft another guard -- which seems unlikely, considering the presence of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, not to mention D'Angelo Russell -- it would appear they have a couple of fantastic prospects to choose from. If they come anywhere close to living up to Santamaria's lofty comparisons, they almost assuredly will have been worth the high draft selection.

[RELATED: Top NBA draft prospect LaMelo Ball is a big fan of Steph]

So, if push comes to shove, which one should the Warriors choose?

In formulating his answer, Santamaria mentioned yet another NBA MVP.

"Well, Bob Myers -- it depends if he's ready to swing for the fences, because LaMelo Ball is that swing-for-the-fences pick," he said. "Somebody's going to be brave enough to do it. I'm certainly not going to say he's going to be an NBA MVP at any point, but Giannis Antetokounmpo was a swing-for-the-fences pick a few years ago that a lot of teams decided they didn't want to or didn't have the courage to take. The Bucks did, and they have reaped the rewards. I think LaMelo Ball is going to fall into that category a little bit as well.

"If Myers and the organization have the courage to swing that bat, then he could very well be a home run."

The Warriors have long been expected to pursue Antetokounmpo if and when he hits free agency. There's no one quite like the Greek Freak, but perhaps Golden State ends up with its own version of him.

LaMelo Ball, possible Warriors target, projected No. 1 NBA draft pick

LaMelo Ball, possible Warriors target, projected No. 1 NBA draft pick

Attention all Warriors fans -- you need to start getting comfortable with the idea that LaMelo Ball very well could go No. 1 overall in the 2020 NBA Draft.

Over the weekend, when you probably were stuffed from Thanksgiving leftovers and too tired to read anything, ESPN's Jonathan Givony and Mike Schmitz moved Ball to No. 1 overall (from No. 3 in late September) in their latest mock draft.

As they explain:

There are only a handful of players in the NBA who can legitimately play point guard at 6-foot-7 like Ball. Ball is the youngest prospect in our top 20 and still has a huge amount of room to grow -- both physically and in terms of skill -- giving him the highest upside of any player in the draft.

It's way too early to know if the Warriors seriously are interested in picking Ball. After all, they do employ guys named Steph Curry and D'Angelo Russell, who possess the rock quite a bit.

There's also this very important caveat:

Both Schmitz and I have just received a significant amount of blowback from NBA teams who say that they simply don't trust Ball enough to hand him the keys to their franchise. They worry about what all the attention around him will do to their team culture, how strong his work ethic is and whether his father, LaVar, could become a distraction.

This seems significant. Does it mean there's a chance he could slip outside of the top-5? Or even the top-10?

Ball -- who doesn't turn 19 years old until Aug. 22 -- is playing in Australia for the Illawarra Hawks of the NBL. He is averaging 24.3 points, 9.3 assists and 9.3 rebounds over his last four games, while shooting 42 percent overall and 32.3 percent from deep.

As Ethan Strauss of The Athletic points out, Ball struggled at times last week when he faced off against fellow American guard RJ Hampton -- who coincidentally slotted in at No. 5 overall to Golden State in the same mock draft.

[RELATEDTop NBA draft prospect LaMelo Ball is a big fan of Steph]

The Warriors (4-17) enter Monday's game against the Hawks (4-16) with the worst record in the league, but check out the upcoming schedule:

Combine that with the fact they eventually will get healthy and welcome back Kevon Looney, Russell, Jacob Evans, Damion Lee and presumably Curry ... the Warriors are going to start winning some games.

They ultimately might play themselves out of position for a high pick. But for now, they are in the NBA basement and intel on the top prospects very much matters.

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NBA mock draft 2020: Warriors select guard RJ Hampton at No. 5 overall

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AP

NBA mock draft 2020: Warriors select guard RJ Hampton at No. 5 overall

Entering Monday, the Warriors (4-17) are a half-game ahead of the Hawks (4-16) and Knicks (4-16) for the worst record in the NBA. As Steph Curry continues to rehab and as the young Dubs grow as a team, plenty can change. 

But this season's Golden State squad seems destined for a high draft pick for the first time since selecting Harrison Barnes at No. 7 overall in 2012. 

Next season's team will resemble more of the dominant roster fans became accustomed to seeing. Curry will be back, as will fellow Splash Brother Klay Thompson, who could miss the entire 2019-20 season while rehabbing a torn ACL. They will be joined by Draymond Green, Kevon Looney and other familiar names. 

There won't be many holes to fill for a team expected to pick atop the draft. Adding a top prospect who could compete right away will be quite the luxury, and the Warriors could certainly find that this coming June.

So, who should general manager Bob Myers and the rest of the front office have their eyes on? ESPN's Jonathan Givony and Mike Schmitz gave the Warriors guard RJ Hampton at No. 5 overall, and that could make plenty of sense. 

ESPN uses their Basketball Power Index to create the draft order, so in this scenario, the Knicks, Grizzlies, Hornets and Hawks all are picking ahead of Golden State. And guards LaMelo Ball, Anthony Edwards and Cole Anthony, as well as center James Wiseman, have come off the board. That leaves the Warriors choosing the 6-foot-5 Hampton, who could serve as both a guard and wing. 

Hampton, 18, opted to play professionally for the New Zealand Breakers of Australia's NBL instead of going to college. Ball, who also plays in the NBL, gets more attention and puts up bigger numbers, but Hampton has less margin for error and might be a highly underrated prospect. 

Through 11 games, Hampton is averaging 10 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.6 assists over 22.6 minutes per game. Per 36 minutes, he's averaging 15.9 points, 6.9 rebounds and 4.2 assists. 

Hampton and Ball recently battled for the second time in the NBL, and while Ball recorded a triple-double, Hampton scored 12 points, four rebounds and two assists in 24 minutes and was plus-9 in the plus/minus. Ball was minus-13. Hampton was seen diving on the floor and fighting for rebounds as his team won, 91-79. 

After a season full of lessons and losses, the Warriors will want a prospect who they can trust right away. Hampton already is playing professionally against grown men, and is showing his desire to play defense and do the little things to win games.

His jump shot will need to continue to improve, though that shouldn't be a huge concern for teams in the draft. Hampton already has shown he has a feel for the game and a willingness to win, which should go a long way. 

[RELATED: Kerr to attend Draymond's MSU jersey retirement ceremony]

The Athletic's Anthony Slater reported in late November that Myers is planning a trip to watch Ball and Hampton in person. NBC Sports' Tom Haberstroh personally believes Hampton is the better fit. 

We're nearly seven months away from the NBA draft, but Myers might find his man when he sees Hampton play.