As 2020 NBA Draft prospects look to set themselves apart from the rest of the field, there’s one guard who could be available for the Trail Blazers at No. 16, who took an unconventional route to the NBA.
And no, we’re not talking about LaMelo Ball.
This is a guard who enjoys attacking the rim, is a versatile pick-and-roll ball handler, and has major athletic upside.
His name is RJ Hampton.
And if he is still on the board, the Blazers should look at selecting the 19-year-old.
But that's a huge IF.
Hampton chose to forgo his senior season at Little Elm High School and reclassified to the 2019 class. To reclassify, a player must meet NCAA graduation requirements. Hampton’s 3.75 GPA and 1280 SAT score, helped surpass the threshold. The five-star guard had been deciding between 17 Division I NCAA offers all across the country, but ultimately he chose a different path.
Hampton joined the NBL’s New Zealand Breakers.
And the Texas native believes it was the right decision.
Hampton still needs to improve both his free throw and three-point shooting, while continuing to develop his defensive game and limit how many fouls he commits, but his commitment to growing as a player has been very apparent in his experience overseas.
In 20 games for the Breakers, Hampton averaged 8.8 points, 3.9 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.1 steals in 20.6 minutes per contest. He started his first 12 games in the NBL, until he suffered a hip injury that held him out of action for nearly a month.
While shooting 40.7% from the field and just 29.5% from downtown, Hampton believes that playing in the NBL versus taking a conventional college route and playing against grown men versus young college players will be a key in his next step at the pro level.
“If I went to college, I felt like I would’ve got the ball almost every time and got to be able to do what I wanted to, but I wanted to already hit that rookie wall, that learning curve in the NBL.”
Throughout President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey's time in Portland, he has never been shy to draft a player who has taken an unconventional approach to entering the league.
Anfernee Simons, instead of playing college ball at Louisville, attended IMG Academy because of his reclassification in the Class of 2018. He became the third high school player since 2015 to be drafted in the NBA.
Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum were both four year players at small colleges.
So, yes, the Trail Blazes can be high on guys who take an unconventional approach to entering the NBA.
But, Olshey, as of late, has Drafted young talent who were just one year out of high school: Nassir Little, Gary Trent, Jr., Anfernee Simons, Zach Collins all fit this category.
And all were tremendous role players.
Entering November 18th's NBA Draft, RJ Hampton is presenting himself as a great locker room type of player, who fits into a role within a professional team.
And anyone in Rip City knows that the current roster makeup with Damian Lillard at the helm is all about ensuring this Blazers squad has great team chemistry and exudes a great culture.
And that’s something that Hampton has harped on in his recent pre-draft interviews.
But will he be around at No. 16 or will the Blazers have to try to trade up to get him?
Hampton believes he'll be a lottery pick.
He has, however, been considered a mid-to-late first-round pick after his stock dropped in many draft boards after failing to really impress scouts with the Breakers; even still, Hampton is confident that despite not being hyped up as a lottery pick, his determination will persevere.
Working hard coupled with a pair of former NBA players as mentors while in New Zealand can only help.
“I surrounded myself with great people in Penny Hardaway and Mike Miller that just only helped me get better from last year.”
With his NBL experience and his unique skill set as a raw combo guard, if other teams sleep on Hampton, the Blazers could be a real winner with this young guard’s talent and team-first mentality.