R.J. Hampton invites, embraces Zach LaVine comparisons

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Once a top-five recruit out of high school, R.J. Hampton enters the 2020 NBA Draft with a wide range of potential outcomes. In need of a playmaking guard — and, above all, talent — could the Bulls have interest?

Hampton confirmed during his combine media availability session Tuesday he spoke with the team early in the predraft process, as well as a plethora of clubs that own selections throughout the first round — the Detroit Pistons (No. 7), New York Knicks (No. 8), Phoenix Suns (No. 10), Sacramento Kings (No. 12), Portland Trail Blazers (No. 16) and Oklahoma City Thunder (No. 25), to name a few.

“It was probably earlier in the summer. And I think almost everyone was on the call but the head coach at the time,” Hampton said of his virtual meeting with the Bulls. “My impressions of them were, they were a young team with young talent and looking for another piece to want to win, and I think that’s a great attitude to have.”

While plucking Hampton at No. 4 would likely be considered a reach, in the event of a trade-back, he’s an intriguing, high-ceiling option. Hampton seemed intrigued by his fit with the roster too, especially for the chance to play with someone he’s long admired — and drawn comparisons to — in Zach LaVine, who he listed along with Jamal Murray as the two NBA guards he studies closest.

“I get a lot of comparisons sometimes to Zach LaVine, so that’s definitely a player that I’ve looked up to while he’s been in the NBA,” Hampton said, later heaping praise on LaVine's "superb" athleticism and "prolific" scoring ability. “Definitely feeding off him and another great scorer in Coby (White) and then you have Wendell (Carter Jr.) and Lauri (Markkanen), so those are two dominant forwards that can definitely make some noise.”

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Hampton, like LaVine, will enter the league a cross between a 1 and a 2 and dynamically athletic, though surrounding Hampton are more questions regarding the consistency of his jump shot. Hampton noted he’s been working with both legendary sharpshooter Mike Miller to refine his shooting mechanics “from [his] head down to [his] toes,” and Penny Hardaway to sharpen his IQ in the halfcourt, especially in pick-and-roll.

Also unlike LaVine, Hampton forgoed NCAA play for a year abroad, appearing in 17 total games for the New Zealand Breakers in 2019-20. He said the experience of playing professionally (and “learning how to be a pro”) helped prepare him, though wanting statistical production — he averaged 8.8 points and 2.4 assists with 40.7-29.5-67.9 shooting splits in regular-season play — undoubtedly dinged his stock.

Still, his unique skillet, burst and positional size at 6-foot-5 remain tantalizing.

“I definitely think I bring that fast-paced, energizer guard. I think I can attack downhill, get my teammates involved and kind of just be a pest on defense and kinda just do the little things,” Hampton said. He also averaged 1.1 steals per game with New Zealand.

Whether all that foreshadows a marriage with the Bulls remains to be seen. His career arc will be a compelling one to watch.