The Case for RJ Hampton
We all witnessed the Miami Heat making an improbably run through the NBA Playoffs, thanks in large part to the ascent of youngsters Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro. Out west, the Denver Nuggets made similar strides when Jamal Murray took the leap from good to great. Devin Booker lofted the Phoenix Suns to an 8-0 record inside the bubble.
None of the four were expected to play these roles when in college. Adebayo was a pure energy big without predicted ball skills. The other three were shooting specialists and their self-creation has been a surprise to many. A common thread between all four–spending their college years under John Calipari at the University of Kentucky–has led to a common question in draft circles: who is the next Kentucky prospect that will deliver the same loot?
The question is, safe to say, a little too narrow. Sure, recent history shows Kentucky guys fit this mold more than others. They play on super-talented teams with multiple professional prospects, forced to sacrifice showcasing some individual skills to make all the pieces mesh on the floor. Shooters, like Booker or Herro, don’t have the ball in their hands, not because they aren’t efficient there, but because it’s not the role their coach needs them to play in order to win.
Countless other prospects explode in the pros when freed of the shackles of their collegiate system. Malcolm Brogdon averaged 16 and 7 for the Indiana Pacers this year after playing in Virginia’s massively-restricting offense. Caris LeVert has proven a great late-clock option, something he wasn’t asked to be at Michigan. The question is Kentucky-centric due to our collective understanding of the context prospects find themselves in there, but it’s not unique to just the Wildcats.
Enter RJ Hampton.
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Part two of the breakdown of best shooters continues with simple catch-and-shoot. This is stationary shooting: darting off screens wasn't heavily considered in making this list. Small relocations and finding pockets laterally along the 3-point line were important, but the main skill in question is shooter's accuracy when their body is already set to the hoop.
Shooting is a mercenary skill in the modern NBA as well as a vital one. Specialists are in demand more than ever, while every role player is asked to develop this aspect of their game. An elite shooter can mean the world for an offense (just ask Duncan Robinson and the Miami Heat). Finding that type of production is rare, though we'll certainly see an uptick in teams trying to find their own version of Duncan Robinson.
Our skill category rankings continue with part one of our breakdowns of the best shooters in this draft class. To me, shooting efficacy needs to be broken down into two different realms. Catch-and-shoot and movement. Both require different strengths, different form and can't be evaluated the same. Some players have great muscle memory for stationary shooting, but don't have the hip fluidity or proper footwork to be used off screens.
Evaluation of the players on this list include those traits, as well as the effectiveness of their makes in this area. Movement shooters become elite when their movements create gravity for teammates, so there's certainly importance to this area beyond simply making shots.
Adam Spinella is a Division III basketball coach using what he's learned about scouting and skill development and applying it to the NBA Draft