Reality began for RJ Hampton around the 15th or 16th pick in last Wednesday’s NBA draft.
His trainer, Mike Miller, was in touch with Nuggets, president of basketball operations Tim Connelly, and Hampton felt he was going to land in Denver. After taking Zeke Nnaji at number 22, Hampton was still sitting on the board. His camp knew a trade was possible.
Connelly seized the opportunity to get Hampton to number 24 and sent a lottery-protected future first round to New Orleans. They thought Hampton would be gone nearly 10 picks early.
“I think they are the best talent evaluators,” Hampton said on a Zoom call Tuesday morning. “They see real talent. A lot of guys from that 1-13 spot were quite upset that they missed Michael Porter Jr (in 2018). And those guys who entered Bol Bol are a bit angry that they missed him. It will be the same with me. I’m going to keep working hard every day showing people that the Nuggets are real talent evaluators, look what they’ve been missing. ”
The 6-foot-5 combo guard bypassed college, despite multiple offers from blue-blood schools, who spent last season with the Breakers in New Zealand. There he showed his prowess as a three-level scorer and his breakneck speed which has led to comparisons to Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook. Rather than shy away from comparisons with two former MVPs, Hampton leans into them.
Miller, who trained Hampton for months and helped improve his 3-point shooting, told The Denver Post that he believes his apprentice has All-Star potential. Both have said they think he can become a high-30s, low-40% 3-point shooter in time.
“I really like that,” he said of All-Star’s potential. “Love the pressure. My biggest goal was to make it to the NBA, but it just wasn’t to be a regular guy in the NBA. I want to be one of the best of all time. ”
In Denver he has to start slowly. In addition to arguably the most chaotic off-season in NBA history, with the shortest turnaround time from draft night to training camp, Hampton enters a packed backcourt.
Jamal Murray is the Denver star and has blazed opposing defenses throughout the Nuggets’ recent scintillating playoff run. His backup, Monte Morris, is as regular a point guard as in the NBA. Gary Harris has had two months to fully recover from a nagging hip injury that bothered him in Orlando, and the Nuggets add Real Madrid veteran point guard Facundo Campazzo. They also have skilled facilitators in PJ Dozier and Will Barton.
“I think that’s good for me,” Hampton said. “That gives me the opportunity to learn straight away from the guys Denver already has. I am a man who can do everything. I can play the 1, the 2, the 3 if necessary. ”
Hampton said he has already been in touch with Murray, Morris and Dozier and started trading texts with Nuggets coach Michael Malone as of Monday. Training camp is a week away.
From there, with no clear depth map, Hampton will have to work his way and prove he can deal defensively with NBA guards. If not, Malone probably won’t trust the 19-year-old. However, its versatility will work in its favor. According to Miller, his time in the National Basketball League taught him to humiliate himself and accept whatever role Malone finds for him.
“My greatest skill is to be able to do anything,” said Hampton. “I can bounce back, I can pass, shoot, go to the basket. I feel like I am one of the fastest people in the NBA. ”
It won’t be long before he gets a chance to prove it.