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Nuggets Newcomer: what the Denver Nuggets can expect from R.J. Hampton

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The Nuggets have added another highly touted high school prospect they were able to get on the cheap

New Zealand Breakers v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Donald Page/Getty Images

As the Denver Nuggets return to training camp, it’s important for fans to become reacquainted with their favorite team. During a shortened offseason, the Nuggets made several player transactions, more than usual, and the resulting roster looks very different than it did before. 10 players on the 2019-20 roster have returned for the 2020-21 season, and they are:

  • Jamal Murray - point guard
  • Monte Morris - point guard
  • PJ Dozier - combo guard
  • Gary Harris - shooting guard
  • Will Barton - wing/forward
  • Michael Porter Jr. - forward
  • Bol Bol - forward
  • Paul Millsap - power forward
  • Vlatko Čančar - power forward
  • Nikola Jokić - center

That leaves seven roster spots, each of which the Nuggets have filled with a player hoping to move the Nuggets closer to winning their first championship in franchise history.

Today, it’s time to introduce Nuggets fans to R.J. Hampton.


R.J. Hampton Player Profile

Position: Guard

Previous Team: NZ Breakers (Auckland, NZ. NBL)

Height, Weight, Wingspan: 6’5”, 185lbs, 6’7”

Statistics

19-20 season with NZ Breakers: 15 games played, 8.8 points, 2.4 assists, 3.9 rebounds, 1.1 steals, 40.7/29.5/67.9 shooting

How did Hampton get to the Nuggets?

Hampton’s path to the Nuggets really starts at the end of his junior year of high school when he made the decision to reclassify and leave high school a year early. At the time Hampton was one of, if not, the top prospects in high school and had many interested suitors, including premier basketball programs such as Kansas and Memphis. However, RJ eschewed the idea of playing basketball while studying in college just like he eschewed the idea of finishing out a full senior year of high school and took his talents to the NBL, the top professional league in Oceania.

As Torrey Craig can attest to, the NBL is no cake walk. Australia and New Zealand are two countries who hold rugby in the highest esteem among all athletic activities and it sets the tone for sports in general in the region. Because of this the NBL is one of the most physical basketball leagues in the world. Hampton got his wish, instead of books he got grown men as opponents and it was a bit of a case of be careful what you wish for.

While there were flashes of his incredible ability and athleticism, the NBL proved to be a difficult challenge. Hampton’s shooting and scoring numbers suffered and he ended up battling injury as the season progressed culminating in an underwhelming season in an overseas professional league which did not help Hampton’s draft stock. Once a potential top overall pick, he slid into the back third of the draft. Denver had already used the only pick they had on Zeke Nnaji, but traded a future first round pick to get back into the 2020 first round and select Hampton at 24 overall.

Highlights

What to expect from Hampton

I think the biggest thing fans should expect from Hampton in his rookie year is a potential dearth of playing time. The Nuggets have generally followed a pretty similar path with all of their rookies when it comes to developing them, save for early on when they were winning 30 games and so it made sense to give rookies big minutes or in the very unique case of Michael Porter Jr. when they decided the red shirt his first season entirely. I would expect Hampton to fall into a similar path as the player he in many ways was drafted to replace: Malik Beasley.

Beasley played in just 22 games for the Nuggets during his rookie season, all of which were garbage time minutes including the only two games he saw more than a dozen or so minutes which were the last two games of the season after the Nuggets were already eliminated from postseason contention. Malik played nearly as many games, and about three times as many total minutes, his rookie year in the G-League rather than the NBA.

In normal times, I would expect Hampton to follow that path to a tee, including playing about three times as many minutes in the G-League versus in the NBA, but these are not normal times. While the Nuggets always have some hurdles to clear in terms of logistics in the G-League, what with them not having their own developmental franchise, the coronavirus pandemic is sure to make it even more complicated. Additionally, the NBA is set to embark on their first season during the pandemic that will not be housed inside a bubble. If the NFL and MLB are any indication, there’s going to be plenty of positive tests that will have to be worked around. In the NBA where rosters can go 17 deep at a maximum that could make things tricky.

For that reason I think RJ probably spends more time up at the NBA level than previous Nuggets rookies and potentially gets called on more often as the team navigates players having to quarantine. If ever there was a year where a title contender like Denver goes deep into the bench and plays a rookie significant minutes, this will be it. When he does get on the court Nuggets fans should expect RJ to be the change of pace guy off the bench.

Denver really has not had a guy with Hampton’s speed since Ty Lawson but unlike Lawson Hampton won’t put the team at a height disadvantage on defense nor will he be asked to run the offense first before looking for opportunities for himself. His entire purpose, at least early in his career, should be to come off the bench and using his lightning fast speed both with and without the ball to catch tired starters and fresh off the bench reserves off guard. Hampton’s speed should have fans salivating at the idea of him being the recipient of those patented Jokic all-in-one-motion rebound to 75’ outlet passes.

The ideal version of Hampton will be a combination of Ty Lawson and Corey Brewer. Bigger than Lawson, better shooter than Brewer (hopefully, Hampton struggled shooting in the NBL but is confident he’ll be one of the top shooters in the league) and still all the speed and energy those two guys brought to the basketball court. If RJ can become that then Nuggets fans should expect to see another young core piece on a championship caliber roster.