R.J. Hampton is considered among the mystery players of this year’s NBA draft, which is to take place next Wednesday. The 76ers have the No. 21 pick in the first round, and four picks in the second round.
Instead of attending college, the 6-foot-6 product of Little Elm (Texas) High School, played professionally for the New Zealand Breakers of the National Basketball League.
The NBL consists of eight teams from Australia and one from New Zealand.
In 15 games, Hampton averaged 8.8 points, 3.9 rebounds, 2.4 assists in 20.6 minutes per game. He shot 29.5% from three-point range, attempting almost three per game.
Hampton, who turns 20 in February, is known for his athletic ability and great explosion taking the ball to the basket. But like so many of the top prospects in the draft, there are questions about his perimeter game.
Hampton played his final NBL game on Jan. 12. He suffered a hip injury and returned to the U.S. in February to continue his rehab and prepare for the NBA draft.
He doesn’t lack any confidence about entering the NBA. He has said he is the most skilled player in the draft and that teams would be sleeping on him if he fell outside of the lottery picks, the top 14 selections.
“Coming out of high school, I’m a top-five player in my class, and I feel like I went to a situation where I didn’t get to score a lot of points and didn’t get the ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ that other players got," he said Wednesday on Zoom. "But I think I learned a lot from my time over there and definitely think that’s going to further me immediately in the NBA.”
He is considered a shooting guard, but he feels he can be versatile enough to play several positions.
“The biggest thing for me, I feel I can guard positions one through three, so if I need to be at one, two or three any time, I can fulfill those roles,” he said.
Hampton said that he has worked out for Detroit, Brooklyn (which picks No. 20), Orlando, Cleveland, Washington, Boston, and Denver.
He said he hasn’t worked out for the Sixers but has spoken to them on a Zoom call.
It probably doesn’t matter because unless the Sixers attempt to move up in the first round, Hampton is expected to be gone by the time they pick at 21.
Not surprisingly, Hampton has been working on his shooting. One of the colleges that he considered attending was Memphis, coached by former NBA star Penny Hardaway.
Hampton has been working with Hardaway and former NBA sharp-shooter Mike Miller preparing for the draft.
As for his decision to bypass college, Hampton has no regrets.
“I would definitely do it again,” he said. “I think I grew as a player more than I would have grown in college, and I think my immediate impact will be a lot faster than some other guys.”
Hampton got to play in exhibition games on the road against two NBA teams last fall. In a 108-94 loss at Memphis, Hampton scored two points, shooting 1-for-8 in just under 20 minutes. During a 110-84 loss at Oklahoma City, he had 8 points, 4 rebounds, and 5 assists while shooting 2-for-11 in just under 30 minutes.
Ryan Blake, a consultant for NBA teams, says there is a lot to like about Hampton.
“He’s got a lot of skill. He’s got good size," Blake said.
The question of his perimeter game always comes up.
“We don’t know how well he can shoot the ball,” Blake said. “He’s got the upside to be a good player, and that is hard to pass on.”
Hampton feels confident that, relatively speaking, it won’t take long for him to become an NBA contributor.
“Playing in the NBL, I kind of already went through that learning curve, so I feel confident. I expect to get on the floor as fast as possible and make an immediate impact within the next couple of years,” he said. “I want to be a guy that is looked upon as one of the players everybody counts on the team to get us wins.”