What R.J. Hampton brings to the Denver Nuggets

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyrosNBA

The Denver Nuggets were certainly active during Wednesday’s NBA Draft. After selecting Arizona big man Zeke Nnaji with the 22nd overall pick, Denver then traded a future first-round draft pick to the New Orleans Pelicans R.J. Hampton.

The move follows a similar draft strategy that Denver has adopted in recent years, as Hampton was a highly-touted prospect coming out of high school before struggling a bit overseas as a member of the New Zealand Breakers in the National Basketball League.

The 19-year-old guard possesses tremendous physical tools and a skill set that should intrigue Nuggets fans. Denver likes to draft based on upside and potential, and the move to secure the draft rights to Hampton certainly fits that bill.

Let’s take a closer look at what the 6’5” guard brings to the table for Denver.

Playmaking and shot creation abilities

If Hampton is successful in the NBA, it will almost certainly be because of his ability to generate his own shot, especially around the basket. He is a great athlete laterally and should be able to get by his defender in one-on-one situations as a result of his quick first step.

Hampton’s offensive game is centered around attacking the basket. As his shot continues to develop (He’s spent considerable time with Mike Miller during the offseason to iron out that aspect of his game), the native Texan can contribute by breaking down a defense and getting inside the paint.

Furthermore, Hampton is shifty with the ball and uses impressive footwork to create separation on his drives to the basket, which allowed him to develop into a good finisher around the rim. Driving downhill is certainly the strength of Hampton’s game at the moment, which should be music to the ears of Nuggets fans, as the team could use another perimeter player that can attack his defender to collapse the defense.

However, Hampton’s shot-creation abilities can also translate to success for others. The newest Nugget also showcased an ability to set up teammates in the NBL, especially in pick-and-roll situations. In 15 games for the Breakers, Hampton averaged 4.2 assists per-36 minutes and already shows a good comfort level as a lead ball-handler in the pick-and-roll, a staple of NBA offenses.

Because Denver’s other guards don’t always excel in attacking defenders in one-on-one situations to get inside the paint, Hampton could figure to see some playing time next season as a scoring punch off the bench.

Athleticism and ability to get out in transition

Another surefire aspect of Hampton’s game is his ability to impact the game in transition, which is mainly a result of his impressive quickness and determination to get to the rim.

A quick leaper and looks to attack in transition regularly, he should provide a nice change of pace for Denver’s offense, as the Nuggets have slowed the pace of their games down in recent seasons and focused more on their half-court offense.

Once in transition, Hampton will be laser-focused on getting inside the paint, where his footwork can help him create separation to get shots off with defenders around.

Once again, this is not a main strength for Denver’s other guards, thus potentially opening up opportunities for Hampton in his rookie season as an explosive, highlight-generating option on the second unit.

Denver projects to have considerable depth at nearly every position once again next season but providing different looks for defenses to counter should be a goal throughout the regular season. Hampton helps the Nuggets achieve that with his transition play and shot creation.

Size and versatility

Finally, Hampton’s size at the guard position is a clear strength. Bigger guards have become somewhat of a trend in the league in recent seasons, and Hampton fits that bill.

At 6’5” with a 6’7” wingspan, Hampton should be able to match up at both guard positions and occasionally at the three in small-ball lineups. His size also helps him contribute on the glass, which he did to the tune of 6.8 rebounds per-36 minutes in his lone NBL season.

It remains to be seen if Hampton will play a role for the Nuggets in the 2020-21 season. However, what’s clear is that the Nuggets once again banked on their draft strategy of identifying top high school talents that slipped in the year leading up to the draft, thus potentially developing into undervalued prospects.

That aspect combined with Hampton’s offensive skill set, making him an intriguing move from Denver’s front office. Perimeter shot creation is one of the more difficult skill sets to find and obtain in the NBA, making the decision to acquire Hampton’s draft rights that much more logical for the Nuggets.

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