Spurs Draft: RJ Hampton is going to be good, but he shouldn’t be a Spur
By Damien Bartonek
The Little Elm, TX native, RJ Hampton is projected to fall to the San Antonio Spurs at their #11 overall selection. Here’s what you should know about him
The San Antonio Spurs roller coaster ride of a 2019-2020 season has them picking inside the lottery for the first time in years. After what had been an underwhelming several months of Spurs basketball before the NBA’s stoppage in play, the team will need to capitalize on their lottery selection come the NBA Draft.
With a plethora of holes to fill on this roster and a salary cap situation that won’t be known until the DeMar DeRozan player option situation is completed, the Spurs are a bit behind the 8-ball in terms of talent and assets.
The 2019-2020 season has been a dud in the Alamo City. With consistency nowhere to be found, and a team full of question marks, their projected #11 overall selection in the NBA Draft is the most important selection of this decade for two reasons.
It’ll either remain in San Antonio’s possession, thus having the front office fully buying into a rebuild, or the pick will be moved in the off-season to bring back an established NBA talent. Either the Spurs as an organization will be all-in for a long term rebuilding plan or San Antonio will look to relight a fire with whatever asset comes in a trade, that somehow brings them back to glory within Coach Pop’s final seasons in the 210.
Considering there’s been no speculation on a trade involving this projected late lottery pick, it’s safe to say SA could be going all the way with their pick.
With a projected #11 overall selection in the 2020 NBA Draft, the San Antonio Spurs (according to tankathon.com) will be selecting RJ Hampton, a combo guard from the New Zealand Breakers of the Australian NBL.
Who is RJ Hampton?
RJ Hampton is a 19-year-old Combo Guard from Little Elm, TX. He attended Little Elm High School and instantly became a North Texas basketball phenom.
Back in high school, Hampton had games you dreamed about as a kid. Games where he had nine three-pointers, seven three-pointers, six steals, double-doubles, essentially the sugar, spice, and everything nice.
His play translated to the AAU Circuit as well. RJ averaged 24.6 points, 4.6 rebounds, six assists and nearly two steals per game for the Mudiay Elite AAU squad.
With loads of high school success, RJ Hampton was a consensus five-star recruit with his final collegiate commitments coming down to Kansas, Texas Tech & Memphis. He opted to go the professional route and ended up signing a deal with the New Zealand Breakers of the National Basketball League.
This decision left many scratching their heads, as many believed a decision to go pro wasn’t the correct move for RJ at the time. He shut down those critics immediately stating on ESPN: “My dream has never been to play college basketball, my dream has always been to get to the next level, and I think this was the best route for me to live like a pro and play with grown men every day and not kind of have to juggle books and basketball and focus on my main goal.”
His play at the next level showed a high offensive upside in terms of scoring at the rim, body control & vision. But, an unfortunate hip injury sat him out for four weeks, limiting him to only 15 games in the NBL.
Hampton’s potential fit with the San Antonio Spurs
RJ Hampton in his 15 contests for the New Zealand Breakers posted pedestrian season averages of 8.8 points, 3.8 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.07 steals per game on 40 percent field goal shooting, and a mediocre 29.5 percent three-point percentage.
In terms of what this current Spurs squad needs, and hypothetically what a younger Spurs team would need, the Spurs would be asking too much from Hampton. The San Antonio Spurs are lacking an identity in this modern era of basketball. They lack spacing and versatility on both ends, and RJ Hampton doesn’t check either of those boxes at this point.
At this point in his basketball career, he’s a below-average jump-shooter. In an era where guards are primary scoring options for teams across the league, a 40 percent field-goal shooter will not cut it at the highest level.
You couple that with a way below average three-point shot and the fit between San Antonio and Hampton doesn’t seem to be there. Offensively, outside of a drive/cut to the basket where he truly excels, Hampton is very limited according to NBA standards at this juncture. But all isn’t bad for the 19-year-old. His offensive upside is undeniable. That’s what the Spurs would be drafting him for, offensive upside.
RJ Hampton as a defender is next to nonexistent. Not on an effort base, but as a skill, defensively he is a work in progress. His slim 188-pound frame doesn’t do him any favors, although his 6’7 wingspan can bail him out at times on that end.
The Spurs won’t draft him to be the same player he is currently at age 30. They’re looking forward to what he will be at 25 and beyond. Although he has his fair share of flaws in his game, there’s still plenty to be enamored about. Throughout his only professional season, he has improved steadily in every facet of the game.
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He has a sneaky good handle on him that has improved throughout his NBL season. His ability to break down defenders and get to the cup, or kick out is very good, it’s definitely at an NBA-caliber level.
His passing ability is also very unique and an underrated aspect of his game. He’s shown the ability to make a pocket pass, and even in drive and kick situations. It never hurts to have multiple playmakers on a team and he looks like he can excel as a passer in the NBA.
I think the fit for RJ in SA is an interesting one, one that screams boom or bust. RJ at this point is a shot creator and a facilitator in the half-court. He’s someone that should he join the Spurs, his jump shot will improve once he works with the “Shot Whisperer” Chip Engelland, the possibility of improvement is undeniable. Currently, he’s a slasher that has the unique body control to slay the rim protectors of the NBA and a passing ability that you can’t deny is adequate.
But, his inability to space the floor whatsoever, the fact that RJ is both below average at jump-shooting and defending, doesn’t fit well with a team that already lacks both of those traits. The Spurs need people who can space the floor and defend, RJ Hampton as of this current point is neither of those.
You couple that with the plethora of young talent on the roster that has offensive aspects of their games deemed “works in progress” like Dejounte Murray, Lonnie Walker, and others, adding another unpolished offensive player is a feat that may be too large for this coaching staff to overcome.
He can be a solid player in the NBA for a while if he ends up on a team that needs what he can bring to the table but right now his fit with the San Antonio Spurs doesn’t look promising. Hopefully, the team goes in another direction with their draft pick.