2020 NBA Draft: Million dollar babies

RJ Hampton has the name but Patrick Ewing’s protégé has the game. As two NBA Draft prospects trend in opposite directions, millions of dollars are at stake.

Four years in college versus one year in the Australian NBL. A springy combo guard from Texas and a 260-pound center from Turkey.

The respective journeys of RJ Hampton and Omer Yurtseven couldn’t be any different, but they are both on fascinating paths as they try to achieve their dream of being drafted into the NBA.

A year ago, the Portland Trail Blazers probably didn’t have either of these guys on their radars, but amazingly as we see Hampton drop, while Yurtseven rises, both players could be on the Blazers boards.

We were able to speak to a few NBA scouts who could weigh in on the respective situations of these young charges, while we reflected on the massive amounts of money in play for both as they move up and down the draft order.

Hampton is nineteen-years-old and a few months ago returned from New Zealand where he was playing in the Australian National Basketball League.

The number five recruit in the 2019 recruiting class out of Little Elm High School in Texas, he had an amazing high school career, winning Texas Gatorade Player of the year for the 2018/2019 season

After reclassifying to the 2019 recruiting class, he surprisingly skipped college and went pro down under in the NBL’s First Stars Program, signing with the New Zealand Breakers.

It was the intention of Hampton and his family to come down to the Australian NBL to secure some financial security, while also hoping to profile him on the court in a way where he could increase his draft position.

We don’t know what would have happened if Hampton had stayed in the USA and went to college, but for arguments sake, let’s say he didn’t improve his draft position, and he stayed at the sixth position that he was recruited in over a year ago.

The way that the rookie scale NBA deals work, the yearly salary is tiered from the 1st pick all the way to the 30th pick in the first round. The second round is slightly different but works on a similar principle.

The sixth pick receives $5.1 million in their first year, then $5.3, $5.6 then around $7 in the final year of a rookie deal. Keep these numbers in mind as you read on.

Around the same time Hampton announced he was coming to Australia, current projected number one pick LaMelo Ball also signed to go to Australia.

Unfortunately for Hampton, Ball’s journey went slightly better than his, but maybe through no fault of Hampton’s.

The youngest Ball brother was the main guy on an Illawara Hawks team that was one of the worst in the league, he lit Australia up with season averages of 17 points with 7 assists and 7 rebounds.

Ex Houston Rockets guard Aaron Brooks was going to be Ball’s running mate in the backcourt until he went down with a season ending injury. The Hawks loss was Ball’s gain though as he had all the ball, all the time.

In Hampton’s case, on the New Zealand Breakers he was used more sparingly. He only had 20 minutes a night compared to 31 minutes in Ball’s case. The point of this article isn’t to compare Hampton to Ball, but it’s easy to see that Hampton had a lot less opportunity.

Because of Hampton’s lack of usage, he had less actual minutes on the court to show his wares. He ended up averaging 8.8 points, 2.4 assists and 3.8 rebounds per game. He was used off the ball and wasn’t always able to run the Breakers offense due to a number of factors. Other players were used more as offensive threats on a team that was trying to win.

You can’t really blame the Breakers for the way they used Hampton. They had a combo guard in Corey Webster who was scoring 20 points a game. They had an experienced team that wanted to win, so putting the ball in Hampton’s hands all the time didn’t really make sense.

Partway through the season, the Breakers were struggling with injuries, and ex NBA player Glen Rice Jr was signed to be the main guy on offense. Ball was the main guy for the Hawks, while Hampton was never afforded the same role.

This is where some of the blame should fall on Hampton’s agent, Happy Walters. Walters, in a lot of ways has to cop some stick for the fall in Hampton’s draft stock.

First of all, Walters should have done due diligence on the role that Hampton was going to have on the Breakers. If he had checked into the Breakers roster, he would have seen that one of the 2019 FIBA World Cup’s highest point scorers, the aforementioned Corey Webster, was the lead guard on the roster.

Also, the NBL is a league where it isn’t easy for young guards to come in right away and dominate. You are playing against men, some of who are either seasoned in Europe or who used to play in the NBA. If you are still developing physically, like Hampton, then this league isn’t going to be a walk in the park.

Walters was already familiar with the NBL as well. One of his ex-clients, Oklahoma City Thunder guard Terrance Ferguson, was also part of the Next Stars Program.

Unfortunately for Walters, after Ferguson got back from Australia, he was fired. Similar to Hampton, Ferguson went to school in Dallas, Texas, he was a top 12 recruit in 2016 and he ended up falling to the 21st pick. A very similar situation, it seems, to Hampton.

This isn’t all on Walters, but when you send an 18-year-old kid to a country half way around the world, you need to make sure they are prepared for everything that comes their way. On and off the court.

The ability to handle the media, being squeaky clean on social media accounts, and the day-to-day of being a professional basketball player. All this is important when controlling a players draft stock.

Is Hampton a hard worker? Yes. Was he pissed off spending large amounts of time on the bench when his NBL team was losing? The answer is probably yes to that too.

In an excerpt from a piece on The Athletic last year, RJ spoke about his time with the Breakers and how he wishes he could get it all over and done with. Pretty tough situation for an 18-year-old kid.

While neither Hampton nor his parents are interested in tracking what-ifs or regret, they aren’t interested in painting a phony fairy tale either. In the short time they’ve been in New Zealand, the Breakers’ general manager quit, and an assistant coach walked at an airport. Hampton got benched in an exhibition game, and the team limped to a 2-4 start. “It’s definitely hard,’’ he says. “I have good days and I have bad days. I wish I could wake up and know what I did these last 28 games and I’d be home. If someone gave me a wish and said, ‘R.J., you gotta live with whatever outcome, but you could go to sleep and wake up tomorrow and those 28 games are played.’ I’m taking that risk. I’m taking that risk.’’

Unfortunately, all of the above, combined with Hampton’s mixed play in Australia has meant he is now free-falling in the NBA Draft. Hampton went down to Australia as the number six recruit and a legitimate top five pick.

Hampton has all the physical gifts to be a great NBA player, but he is now firmly out of the top ten.

Sam Vecenie of the Athletic has Hampton at number 18 in his latest mock. But after speaking to one NBA scout this week, it seems like he may fall even further.

I’m not really sure where Hampton’s game translates at this point other than his physical tools. He’s very raw skill wise but has a unique combination of age, size, length and athleticism that makes him someone with a lot of upside.

It’s unclear what would get him on the floor tomorrow. It’s a long-term play.

Read what you like into the above, but that screams to me, back of the first round.

Back to the financial situation. Hampton received $500 thousand for his season with the Breakers while signing a five-year endorsement with Chinese shoe company Li-Ning. The Li-Ning deal was worth around $800 thousand with $300 thousand of it being paid in the first year.

So Hampton overall earnt around $800 thousand for his year in Australia. Below are different draft positions and what they will earn over the course of an NBA rookie deal if they are drafted in 2020.

The 6th pick will earn $21 million over the course of a four-year rookie deal.

The 13th pick will earn $15 million over the course of a four-year rookie deal.

The 22nd pick will earn $8 million over the course of a four-year rookie deal.

If Hampton falls to 13 then his sojourn to Australia cost him around $5 million, if he falls to 22 then that number increases to around $12 million lost.

This is a tough pill to swallow for Hampton, his family and his agent, but it is the reality of the risk taken to go down to Australia.

The other thing to consider is Hampton’s role. The further that a team drafts back in the first round, the better they are as a team obviously. This means that the draft pick is unlikely to get serious minutes right away.

Say Hampton was drafted by the Detroit Pistons with the 6th pick, he would be their point guard of the future and would likely get at least 24 minutes a night on a bad team.

If he gets drafted by the Blazers with the 13th pick, he would probably only play in garbage time or if there were injuries, meaning around 6 – 10 minutes a night.

The above situations are completely different and could alter a player’s career significantly.

RJ Hampton is a great prospect for the NBA. You only need to look at the comments from the scout above to see he has the athletic gifts needed for an NBA career. But unfortunately for Hampton, he doesn’t have the chance to prove himself in workout’s for teams to show he is still a top ten pick.

After seeing him play in High School and then in Australia it’s clear he has a lot of potential, but he needs to land in the right situation so he can get to work on proving his value to this league.

With his mocked position, he may well fall into the Blazers lap at the back of the lottery.

This now brings us to the next prospect. Omer Yurtseven.

Omer Yurtseven, Portland Trail Blazers

(Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

There probably isn’t a more intriguing NBA draft prospect than big center Omer Yurtseven. How is the 21-year-old Turk now on the radar of multiple NBA teams, with the chance to cash in on some guaranteed NBA money?

Obviously he is nowhere near as prominent as Hampton, so we will dive deep into why he is rising up NBA team’s boards.

Yurtseven is a seven-foot center from Turkey, who has a seven-foot-two wingspan and weighs 265 pounds. At the end of April he announced he was declaring for the NBA Draft.

It’s important to note that Yurtseven has been a professional since the age of 16, making his pro début all the way back in 2015. He also became the youngest player from any team to play in an NBA pre-season game when he matched up with the Brooklyn Nets at age 17.

At an under-18 youth competition, he also famously scored 91 points with 28 rebounds, outscoring the entire opposition who had only 81 points.

Yurtseven is a right-hander who was actually a leftie growing up, but his father forced him to use his right hand instead. This is one of the reasons for his impressive offensive repertoire, he is ambidextrous.

He spent four years at the NCAA level that consist of two years at North Carolina State, then a year stand down because of a transfer and fourth year at Georgetown.

His college stats are as follows

NC State

55 games – 22 minutes per night

13.5 points – 6.7 rebounds – 1.8 blocks

Georgetown

26 games – 27.3 minutes

15.5 points – 9.8 rebounds – 1.5 blocks

At Georgetown he spent a year under the tutelage of Hall of Famer, New York Knick and Georgetown great, Patrick Ewing.

Ewing is early in his college coaching career and still finding his feet after many years working in the NBA. After a disappointing 15 and 17 record this season, where they also went 5 and 13 in the Big East, it seems strange that Ewing didn’t use Yurtseven more.

In his second year at NC State, Yurtseven shot 22 of 44 from three-point range, but two whole seasons later at Georgetown, he only attempted 14 threes.

With the 114th ranked offense in the country, I don’t know why Ewing used backup centers for a combined 600 minutes over the season.

Yurtseven was fifth in total minutes this season across the squad, even though he was clearly the most efficient and impactful offensive player on this Hoya team.

The old-school Ewing isn’t big on three-pointers, but he should be given credit for the ever evolving post game of the Turkish big.

Do NBA teams see his lack of usage as a positive? With a different role could he succeed in the future on an NBA team?

It’s pretty clear how skilled and unique Yurtseven is as a prospect. He wants to be drafted and sign an NBA contract, and there is legitimate interest from NBA teams. One NBA scout gave us this info this week.

Omer has great positional size, he is still very young at twenty-one-years old and has played professionally for years. As a back to the basket scorer he has great feel and is skilled in the post.

He has an excellent jumper that he will eventually be able to stretch out to the corners and then above the break from NBA distance.

He has good touch and feel overall but his lack of athleticism is a concern with where the game is going at the center position. He does have limitations around the rim because of this, and with less post-ups in today’s game this changes things for a big with this type of skill.

This scout agreed that considering all of the above, Yurtseven could be a mid to late second round pick.

Some teams may be higher on him than others though, as one NBA personnel man had this to say

Yurtseven is arguably the most skilled player in the NBA Draft

This is just one team, but when you watch his tape, you can see why teams are excited.

His matchup this season against Duke and projected first-round pick Vernon Carey was one example of just how dominant he can be.

At halftime Yurtseven was scoreless. Come the second half he totally dominated the bigger and highly touted Carey with 21 points.

First, he scored with an easy hook shot in the center of the lane, then he used a high-arcing fade-away into the lane for another two.

The next play down, Yurtseven up-faked to get his defender in the air, then hit the jumper as he was fouled for an impressive and-one. Next time he has Carey on him, he uses another up-fake and then a small drop-step to get free before flicking in an easy one-hander.

Yurtseven then gets the ball from an out-of-bounds situation just inside the three-point line. He fakes a pass, and his defender backs off a yard so he drills the deep two.

Again demanding the ball in the low-post, he tries using a similar move to earlier where he backs his defender down, before up-faking on a potential baseline jumper. This time, the defender doesn’t buy it, but Yurtseven absorbs the bump and no call, and hits the lean in jumper.

He then flashes a tough baseline jumper and hits that too. In between these plays, he goes to the free-throw line where he exhibits his nice shooting touch. 75.3 percent from the line this season.

Two possessions on defense are also noteworthy too. One where he defends Carey well with great verticality before fouling on the second attempt.

Later in the game he is defending Carey again, Carey gets the ball with his back to the basket and rips through to drive to the hole. Yurtseven first pokes the ball free, then when Carey regains it, Yurtseven rejects him at the rim then grabs the board.

Though the post-up is a dying art in the NBA, what you notice when watching Yurtseven is his patience on offense. There’s no wasted movement. He gets to his spots with ease, and doesn’t panic.

He has an array of offensive moves and his nice jumper could be a real weapon in the NBA. He can use either hand down low while he has excellent feel around the basket for scoring as well as loose balls and recovering possession.

Yurtseven is a great rebounder as well as a strong defender. His feel for the game is excellent on that end, he uses great verticality in combination with strong timing on defense, and he has good hands for getting deflections.

Though his body isn’t fully developed yet, he uses sound positioning and footwork on defense and is fundamentally strong.

When casting your eye over his College Basketball Reference page, you notice he is on several different leaderboards. Considering he only averaged 23.6 minutes a night in his college career, his statistical production is also very impressive.

This year, and in his second year in college as a 19-year-old, he was in the top ten in his respective conferences in eight different statistical categories.

Field Goal percentage, two-point field goals, offensive rebounds, blocks, blocks per game, PER, block percentage and rebound percentage.

Yurtseven’s efficiency is very impressive. Considering he is limited athletically and he uses a lot of post plays and jumpers, his 53 percent from the field is exceptional.

It’s hard to forecast what his ceiling is as a player, but it’s looking like he will be drafted in the back of the second round.

With the Blazers likely to cut bait with Hassan Whiteside and invest in a backup center at the minimum, a project like Yurtseven could be exactly what this team needs. A center that can play both sides of the ball, and who could stretch his range out to three longterm would fit the bill nicely.

Though Yurtseven won’t get anywhere near the payday that Hampton is in for, he has the chance to earn second-round pick money in the vicinity of $1 million a season starting this year.

This could then increase all the way to $2 million in the fourth season if he has a four-year deal where the options get picked up.

In Hampton and Yurtseven you couldn’t find two players with more contrasting journeys and backgrounds.

As NBA teams begin to interview prospects, this won’t be the last we hear of these two.

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