RJ Hampton had a video call with Knicks executives and scouts a few weeks ago. The call included team president Leon Rose and senior and executive vice president William ‘World Wide Wes’ Wesley.
Hampton hoped to get a clear message across to New York during the interview.
“I was a projected Top 5 pick last year. I went overseas, I learned a lot, I didn’t have superior numbers and I was kind of forgotten about,” Hampton said in an interview with SNY. “The message that I was trying to get across is, ‘I’m still that same player. I’m still that player that can get you 20-25 points, 6-7 assists, be that lead guard and a franchise changer.’”
As teams prepare for the 2020 NBA Draft, they’re doing all they can to evaluate prospects in unfamiliar circumstances. There haven’t been any in-person workouts due to the coronavirus. No Draft Combine. No face-to-face interaction. Teams are relying on the scouting they’d before the pandemic and what they’ve seen on tape.
In Hampton’s case, that means they haven’t seen him play in more than seven months. For much of that time, the 19-year-old guard has been working with former NBA sharpshooter Mike Miller on his perimeter shot. Hampton and Miller have spent countless hours training together in Memphis, working on everything from Hampton’s base to pulling up in transition.
For Hampton, who skipped college to play in New Zealand, this is the equivalent of getting your PhD in perimeter shooting.
“Mike’s a proven shooter, one of the best shooters of all time. So when you get to work with somebody like that, on a consistent, weekly basis, it’s great,” Hampton said.
According to Miller, the results have been encouraging.
“With him and the way he plays, if he shoots -- which I’m pretty confident in -- in the next 2-3 years he’ll be a high 30s, low 40s percent 3-point shooter, he’ll be one of the best guards in the league,” Miller said in an interview with SNY.
That may sound like hyperbole, but it should be noted that Miller has a track record of helping teammates and players he’s coached with their shots. So he speaks from experience.
“The consistencies I’ve seen with him, the stuff that he’s worked on, it’s the same stuff that I’ve worked on with tons of shooters in the league and I’ve seen the transformation, so I’m not guessing,” said Miller, who left his position as a Memphis assistant in March.
On his prediction that the 6-5 Hampton will shoot a percentage in the high 30s or low 40s from beyond the arc in the NBA, Miller said, “It’s not a guess. I’ve seen the progress he’s done in two months, so I know what the progress is going to be in three years…. When he continues to way the way he’s training, he’ll be so dynamic in the NBA.”
If teams are confident that Hampton will be able to shoot well from the perimeter, he could be picked much higher than current mock drafts project (ESPN has him at No. 19). Before he went overseas, Hampton was widely considered a Top-5 pick in the 2020 draft.
“That’s one of the bigger questions about RJ now – the shooting,” one Western Conference scout said.
During the pre-draft process, Hampton has spoken with the Knicks (8th pick, 27th pick) and several other NBA Lottery teams, including the Pistons (No. 7 pick), Bulls (No. 4 pick), Hornets (No. 3 pick) and Wizards (No. 9 pick).
Will he end up being picked in the top 10? That’s impossible to know right now.
Hampton averaged 8.8 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists in 15 games in the NBL in New Zealand/Australia. Presumably, this is why his draft projections dropped. But Miller notes that Hampton was playing on a team in New Zealand that was competing for a title in the NBL. So Hampton wasn’t given the green light to shoot/create at will. But he learned plenty about life as a professional basketball player.
“That was my whole goal. I didn’t go over there to average 30 points, I didn’t go over there to be MVP,” Hampton said. “I went over there to learn as much as I could about the professional level so that when I’m a rookie, I have a head start on every other rookie.”
Teams may still have a chance to watch prospects work out in person prior to the Nov. 18 draft. So even though some mock drafts have Hampton landing outside of the lottery, plenty can change between now and draft night.
Miller, who recruited Hampton at Memphis, believes GMs of teams outside of the top of the draft who pass on Hampton are making a mistake.
“I was able to recruit a lot of these kids in this draft, I was able to watch and play against a lot of the kids in this draft as far as when I was coaching,” Miller said. “I’m not going to name names but he’s one of the three players that I think has the biggest upside, the biggest ceiling and really is going to be one of the stars of this draft….What people are going to find out is, if you’re sitting in one of those spots after (the third and fourth pick) and if he’s not on your board, it’s one of those things and you’re going to be kicking yourself. I’ve been around a lot of them. He’s that good. He’s that good of a kid too. And he works.”
In addition to what was discussed above, Hampton and Miller talked to SNY about a number of other draft-related topics:
Hampton, who has also trained recently with Memphis head coach Penny Hardaway, on playing in New York:
“There’s certain players that have talent that can’t play in New York. I feel like I’ve been under the bright lights all my life. I was under the brightest lights of them all last year; I took every criticism… I was an 18-year-old that went overseas and averaged nine points a game. The average 18-year-old that averages nine points a game and people are critiquing (them), they might fold.
“With the Knicks, they know I’m a competitor, they know I’m willing to get better and I think they know I can handle the bright lights of New York City.
“A lot of it is just a mindset. You have to have that mindset if you want to play for New York City. You can’t come in there being soft, you can’t come in there wanting anything handed to you. And that’s never how I’ve had it. Obviously, I’m going to have some ups and downs and learn and be a rookie and make some mistakes. But the mindset is you’ve got to go to New York and want to be hungry and a winner.”
Miller on his work with Hampton:
Miller, a career 40.7 percent 3-point shooter, said his workouts with Hampton started with the “tedious, boring” details of shooting. “That’s why I know he’s going to be a great shooter. Because going through that tedious, boring work is what a lot of people don’t want to do,” Miller, a two-time NBA champ, said.
Miller helped Hampton widen his base and move his shooting pocket up. They started with basics, over-exaggerating details of his shooting form. Eventually, Miller put Hampton in game situations: shooting when defenders go under the screen in pick-and-roll situations, shooting in transition, etc.
“With his lack of volume shooting overseas (in the NBL), I throw the percentages out the window,” Miller said of Hampton, who shot 40.7 percent from the field with New Zealand. “He’s gotten way more consistent now, he’s understanding how to be a shooter. To see his progress, to know that I’m going to be around to help for the next three years, four years -- and hopefully even more – to continue when things go good, then when things go bad, that I’m there to help him, I just know where he’s going to be – at one point he’ll take the training wheels off and he’ll be an All-Star.”
On his work with Miller, Hampton said, “Being in the gym with Mike over the past five months, I feel like my shot has improved 100 percent. I’m not looking to go to the NBA and make seven threes a game. Teams know I can go downhill, they know I’m athletic, they know I can attack…. If I can use that to my advantage and someone goes under a screen or people are sagging off of me and I can knock down 2-3 threes a game, that’s good for me. I want to be that player who they’re scared of going downhill but if you back up, I can knock down the three. That’s going to open up my whole game.”
Miller adds that Hampton, considered one of the best athletes in the draft, has “elite,” “John Wall-type” end-to-end speed with the ball in his hands. “Like all young kids, he’s not the best defender but he understands his length and his passing lanes,” Miller said. “And he knows how athletic he is.”
Hampton on playing with RJ Barrett:
Hampton said he got to know Barrett as a freshman because he was going to transfer to Montverde, where Barrett played in high school.
“I think we’d go well together. I think we’re both attacking, downhill guards that can really play off each other. He’s a great player and I think with me being that lead guard, the sky’s the limit.”
*For the RJ-RJ backcourt to be effective, both players will probably need to be able to knock down perimeter shots.
Hampton on playing with Mitchell Robinson:
“If I’m being honest -- no knock to any of the Knicks guards, I feel like all of the Knicks guards are good to great guards -- but I feel like if I paired with Mitchell Robinson I could definitely help him in his way to be a Top 5 big in the NBA.”