It's not just LaMelo Ball, RJ Hampton has joined the injury list too. Two of the NBL's Next Stars will be missing in action for the coming month.
At the time of writing, the New Zealand Breakers have yet to make an official announcement. According to journalist Josh Price, Hampton confirmed that a hip injury will be sidelining him for 4-6 weeks. ESPN's Jonathan Givony marked the downtime as four weeks. The point guard missed the New Zealand Breakers' last game against the Brisbane Bullets, where the Breakers took a 96-84 win against the Brisbane Bullets at home.
22 December was supposed to be another opportunity to catch Ball and Hampton facing off against each other. Ball's injury has likely deterred NBA representatives from making a trip down to Australia, and Hampton's status only serves to justify the decision further.
During the last Breakers-Hawks game in November, there was a noticeable lack of energy plays, as noted by The Athletic's Ethan Sherwood Strauss, who also compared the two prospects' potential on their next step.
So what do the contrasting styles and situations of Ball and Hampton mean, in terms of draft projection for the two 18-year-olds? I would hazard, with the extreme caveat that it’s difficult to project the careers of teenagers, that Hampton has a higher floor as a pick. Yes, Hampton has similar jump-shot issues as Ball, though they tend to go down when he’s open. And, yes, he’s raw in many respects. But, from the early returns, Hampton is an athletic, high-effort player whose main focus appears to be winning, play after play. He’s highly competitive and really took it to Ball when the moment struck.
Ball is more of a mystery and a tantalizing one. His talent is obvious and a delight to behold when he’s on. I would just caution against reading too much into his triple-doubles and counting stats. That’s fine and well, but if I’m a team like, say, the Warriors, looking to possibly draft the most famous NBL player in history, I’m probably searching for LaMelo making the kinds of plays Hampton made at his expense on Saturday.
LaMelo Ball vs. RJ Hampton: Taking a close look at the showdown
This season, Hampton has averaged 9.5 points,4.1 rebounds and 2.5 assists with 12 games played.
The New Zealand Breakers are currently second-last on the ladder with a 4-9 record, right in front of Ball's Illawarra Hawks.