Detroit Pistons draft preview: Could R.J. Hampton’s path through New Zealand lead him to Detroit?
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History says it’s a virtual certainty a future All-Star, perhaps even a future MVP, will be available when the Pistons go on the clock to make the seventh pick in the 2020 NBA draft.
It’s too early to judge the 2018 and ’19 drafts – though early returns suggest form will hold as young players like Tyler Herro (13th pick in 2019) and Shea Gilgeous-Alexander (11th pick in ’18) already appear on an All-Star track – but go back a decade and every draft has produced players who either already are or will be multi-time All-Stars and MVP winners who were taken with the seventh pick or beyond.
The 2017 draft has already produced All-Stars in Donovan Mitchell (13th) and Bam Adebayo (14th). Jamal Murray, a breakout star of the NBA’s Orlando bubble, was the seventh pick in 2016. Devin Booker was the 13th pick in 2015 and Nikola Jokic went 41st in 2014.
Two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo was the 15th pick in 2013 and three-time All-Star – and three-time NBA champion – Draymond Green was the 35th pick in 2012. His Golden State teammate, Klay Thompson, was the 11th pick in 2012 when two-time NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard went 15th. Paul George was the 10th pick in 2010 and two-time MVP Steph Curry was the seventh pick in 2009.
So when Dwane Casey said in early October, after months of digesting video of top prospects, he was confident the Pistons will get a foundational piece at the seventh pick, he had history – and faith in the eye of new general manager Troy Weaver – in his corner.
Leading to the Nov. 18 draft, Pistons.com will profile 12 candidates to hear their name called when the Pistons announce the pick. First up: guard R.J. Hampton.
FIRST-ROUND CANDIDATE: R.J. HAMPTON
ID CARD: 6-foot-6 guard, New Zealand Breakers, 19 years old
DRAFT RANGE: Ranked 13th by ESPN.com, 7th by The Athletic, 23rd by SI.com
SCOUTS LOVE: Hampton’s been on the radar for at least three years as an elite prep recruit out of the Dallas area for his physical profile and athleticism. His speed with the ball is eye catching and he’s got the tools to be a force taking the ball to the basket and a versatile defender. Originally slated to be a member of the high school class of 2020, Hampton reclassified to 2019 and then shunned the one-and-done college route in favor of signing professionally to play in the National Basketball League encompassing Australia and New Zealand. His stock might have taken a hit there, playing against grown men in a credible professional league, but the underlying talent remains. Hampton exhibits not only speed and run-and-jump athleticism but the sort of wiggle and fluidity of movement necessary to blossom as an isolation scorer, an increasingly coveted attribute as NBA defenses become more sophisticated. Hampton might not qualify as a traditional point guard, but if he hits his mark he could be a first-option scorer who creates scoring opportunities for others in the way he stresses defenses.
SCOUTS WONDER: As shooting – and 3-point shooting, especially – becomes more and more essential to allow teams to keep up, Hampton needs to convince scouts he can at least develop into a league-average shooter from distance. In a small sample size – Hampton played only 15 games in the NBL before shutting down with a hip injury and returning to the United States to prepare for the draft – Hampton shot just 29.5 percent from the 3-point arc on 2.9 attempts per game. Hampton has made a favorable impression, by all accounts, in his predraft interviews – the Pistons, he confirmed, are one of the teams that’s met remotely with Hampton – for his maturity and straightforwardness. Hampton, who was likely headed to Memphis to play for Penny Hardaway before opting for the NBL, has been working on his shooting mechanics under the eye of longtime NBA 3-point sniper Mike Miller, a Hardaway assistant coach, and Miller has been strongly endorsing Hampton’s openness to coaching and his progress. That probably will go a long way toward convincing teams Hampton’s shooting range won’t inhibit his long-term offensive upside.
NUMBER TO NOTE: 7 – That’s where Hampton ranked in the recruiting composite index among high school class of 2019 recruits after reclassifying from 2020.
MONEY QUOTE: “I think we’ve worked on everything from my head down to my toes, learning how to get my shot up higher, ball placement, slowing my shot down, simplifying it. He’s one of the greatest shooters of all time, so nothing better than working with him.” – R.J. Hampton, in a remote interview with NBA media, on his hours of work with retired NBA star Mike Miller to remake his perimeter shot.
PISTONS FIT: If getting a playmaker with size, playmaking skills and one-on-one scoring ability isn’t first on the wish list of new general manager Troy Weaver and coach Dwane Casey, it’s tough to imagine what it would be. The Pistons have Derrick Rose in that role now but he’ll be entering the last year of his contract as a 32-year-old with a checkered injury history. If Miller was the ideal tutor to remake Hampton’s shot, Rose would be just as fitting a mentor to show Hampton the responsibilities that come with being an NBA team’s primary ballhandler and playmaker. Weaver’s star was put on its arc of ascendancy as an NBA talent evaluator when he lobbied for Russell Westbrook with the fourth pick in the 2008 draft. If Hampton realizes his potential as an athletic lead ballhandler, he could be the player who launches Weaver to a successful run as Pistons general manager.
BOTTOM LINE: Hampton’s intelligence and maturity – reflected in the way he’s attacked his weakness as a 3-point shooter by seeking out Miller to tutor him – figures to stand out for a general manager, Weaver, who upon being hired by the Pistons said this: “I just feel like my philosophy is we don’t draft players, we draft people. We want to make sure we get the person right.” There is more that goes into the psychological profile of a player than intelligence and diligence – Weaver surely will want to get a sense of Hampton’s competitiveness and leadership potential, as well, for starters – but what’s evident about Hampton go on the plus side of the ledger. If Weaver’s vision for what Hampton can become lines up with the profile of him as a top-five talent that existed before he ventured to New Zealand, he stands as a completely realistic candidate to be taken with the seventh pick despite draft rankings that would make that seem a reach.