Value can be defined many different ways, but for the Denver Nuggets, value often comes in the name of first round draft picks. Take the past three drafts for example, the Nuggets started it all off when they took Michael Porter Jr. with the 14th overall pick in the 2018 NBA draft. Porter — a once projected top three pick — fell into the Nuggets lap after questions surrounding his health scared 12 other teams away (Clippers passed on MPJ twice).
In 2019, the Nuggets then traded into the draft after entering the night without a selection. Denver was able to facilitate a trade to acquire Bol Bol with the 44th pick after the once lottery projected prospect fell all the way to the second round. Just like in Porter’s case, there were questions surrounding Bol’s health, which is a big reason why he slid to the second round.
Fast forward to Wednesday night when the Nuggets made another value selection in R.J. Hampton at 24th overall. After selecting Zeke Nnaji at 22nd overall, the Nuggets surprised everyone by trading back into the first round with the New Orleans Pelicans to select Hampton. The Nuggets reportedly (Zach Lowe of ESPN) sent a 2023 lottery-protected first round pick to New Orleans in exchange for the 24th overall pick to select Hampton.
Just like the situation was surrounding Porter and Bol, Hampton was projected to go somewhere inside the top 20 picks, but slid to a spot in the draft where the Nuggets felt like he was just too good to pass up. After selecting Nnaji at 22, it seemed like Denver was done for the night, that was until Shams Charania of The Athletic dropped a bombshell that Denver was acquiring Hampton just one pick after their night seemed to be over.
Sources: New Orleans picking RJ Hampton at No. 24 and trading him to Denver.— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) November 19, 2020
Like they have in recent years, Tim Connelly and the Nuggets front office made another aggressive move to acquire a player that fell in the draft. After skipping out on college basketball to play oversees in the NBL this past season, Hampton is a pro ready prospect who already has 15 games of professional basketball under his belt.
In 15 games with the New Zealand Breakers, Hampton averaged 8.8 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 2.4 assists per game. The Nuggets have already had some previous luck in acquiring players from the NBL in Torrey Craig, who played three seasons in the NBL before signing with the Nuggets. Craig’s played a massive role in Denver's success over the past few seasons and has been an instrumental piece in the Nuggets defensive improvement.
What these past three years have in common is the Nuggets drafting players who were highly rated coming out of high school. All three of Porter, Bol, and Hampton were top-5 prospects coming out of high school and were projected to be high draft picks following their freshman seasons.
MPJ: 2nd in his class coming out of high school— Brandon Ewing (@B_Skip1717) November 19, 2020
Bol Bol: 4th in his class coming out of high school
R.J. Hampton: 5th in his class coming out of high school
Nuggets got all three of these guys 14th, 44th, and 24th in their respective drafts.
Great value picks. All three.
Denver has somehow found a way to get lucky in three consecutive drafts. It seems like Porter is definitely going to work out and become a focal point in the Nuggets future and the same could be said for Bol.
In Hampton’s case, he’s just getting started, but the path to success is there as long as the Nuggets follow the same blueprint they used for Porter and Bol. Hampton is currently behind Gary Harris and Will Barton on the Nuggets depth chart, but the offseason is not finished and other moves could still be made.
The Nuggets drafting Hampton could make a few of those players expendable as it may be hard to keep Denver’s talented new 19-year old rookie off the floor. Hampton showcased an explosiveness last season in the NBL that is unmatched by anyone on the Nuggets roster.
Not only is Hampton an incredible cutter, but his overall feel for the game is something that should fit nicely with the Nuggets from the start. If Hampton can continue to improve on his jump shot, he could potentially blossom into one of the best young scorers in the NBA.
RJ Hampton working with jumpshot whisperer Mike Miller. Release already significantly cleaner than it was during the season in the NBL. pic.twitter.com/UUX7YhnBCB— Matt Pennie (@matt_pennie) September 22, 2020
Hampton working on his jump shot with one of the best sharpshooters in NBA history can only be good news for the Nuggets. Not to mention that Mike Miller and the Nuggets have a great relationship from his days playing in Denver, so I'm sure Connelly and his staff got some pretty good intel before trading back into the draft to select Hampton.
One thing is for certain and it’s that Denver believes in Hampton after trading a future first-round pick to get back into the draft to select him. For a team that has championship aspirations next season and beyond, Hampton could be another piece to the puzzle to help make that dream a reality. Will that start as early as next season? That remains to be seen.
Either way, the Nuggets walked out of Wednesday nights draft with a player — yet again — most people wouldn't have projected falling to them. That is called value and the Nuggets are damn good at finding it. Welcome to the squad, R.J. Hampton.