What RJ Hampton Would Bring to the Knicks

Kris Pursiainen

RJ Hampton is a 6'5 guard from Texas who averaged 9.6 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 2.47 assists per game for the New Zealand Breakers of the NBL - the league with which he spent a season in place of dealing with the NCAA. The Breakers went 15-13 on the season, but only 5-12 in contests in which Hampton saw the court. He's an athletic player who is a good finisher, has shown somewhat of an ability to run an offense, and has flashed potential in numerous other offensive aspects; his athleticism also allows him to be a decent individual defender even if he lacks some of the instincts needed to be a high-level team defender. Hampton, to me, screams raw - many of the things that need major improvement involve finetuning a skill, such as the improvements Hampton will need to make with his handle and jumpshot. 

Hampton's ability to drive and finish is arguably the best part of his game as it stands right now. Watch him burn the Illawarra Hawks point guard you might know in LaMelo Ball and zip his way to the hoop multiple times in the same game:

His athleticism helps him in other ways as well, such as in transition on a play like this:

Hampton to me projects to be a "scoring combo-guard" at the NBA level - someone who can score and sometimes create on a respectable efficiency from the guard position. Hampton could very well end up being one of the main scoring options off of the bench for a title contending team - or a low-end starter for a team talented in other areas but lacking someone to start at shooting guard. I believe that in his more impactful years in the league, Hampton will likely have one of those two roles. 

In terms of his shooting ability, a skill the Knicks could certainly benefit from one of their guards having, Hampton only shot 29.5% from three-point range in the NBL. What I will say is that the shots he took with both feet set seemed to look a lot better as a group than those he took on the move or off the dribble. Hampton's shooting is one of the major factors that will determine his future in the league, as the skill is becoming increasingly required of players at any position. With the NBA-level development Hampton will get wherever he winds up, I can see his shooting developing into something that forces teams to at least pay attention to him outside the arc even if they know he's not a true threat from deep. 

Worst case scenario defensively, Hampton should be able to get an occasional steal (he averaged 1.18 per game) with his 6'7" wingspan and be able to guard opposing two-guards. His lack of fundamental knowledge on the defensive end can only be covered so much by his athleticism, especially during plays that require team-oriented defensive ability and not just man-to-man coverage. He shouldn't find himself being a turnstile unless he is unable to "bulk up", but I also don't see Hampton being a defensive force in the NBA due to his lack of basic knowledge, awareness, and mechanics in terms of factors such as his footwork (which in part has to do with knowing how to position himself, again an awareness thing). 

If the Knicks wound up with Hampton on their squad, it is certainly because they fell from their current lottery standing of sixth. I don't see a top six pick in this draft being used on RJ Hampton by any team, regardless of the positional need; I can see a scenario in which the Knicks wind up with a pick anywhere from #8-10 and decide that even if he's not the best player available at this moment at that slot in the draft, his potential and athleticism are irresistible to Rose, Perry & co. and they select him there. 

Hampton would fit right into the Knicks' group of young players who were selected in the lottery but aren't good NBA players. This sounds blunt, but I see Hampton struggling for a year or two before sizing up enough and finding his footing in the league - at that point, I see him learning how to become dangerous as a scorer. He would join the team's other RJ on the wing as a player who can get the ball to and through the bucket but can't sink a shot from deep. He would join Kevin Knox as someone taken for his potential over players who were actually able, at the time of the draft, to do the things the Knicks are hoping their prospect will learn how to do. I'm not setting Hampton up for failure in New York City - I'm preparing the fans for a period of struggling and learning from Hampton that will hopefully one day allow him to become a reason the Knicks are a winning organization.

This draft class, as I've said many times, is weak in general - falling to a position where Hampton might be the best pick already means that the lottery hasn't gone too well for the team. With proper development after joining the roster, drafting Hampton is something that might actually go well for the Knicks if they are able to hit on their other picks in this draft, as well as their numerous first round picks in the years after this one. 

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