One of the many tweaks of the newly-signed CBA was that each of the 30 NBA organizations were now allowed to carry three two-way players instead of two, the original designation introduced in the 2017 CBA.
That benefitted guard R.J. Hampton, who signed a two-way contract with the Miami Heat in late September. Similar to current Heat wing Caleb Martin, Hampton was an established veteran by the time he signed with Miami with the hopes of finding a clear footing in the league.
By now, it’s well known that Miami’s had an excellent recent track record of developing players who didn’t particularly fit with other organizations, fostering an environment that allows the organization to squeeze every bit of juice out of them. Among those who have benefitted were Martin and Duncan Robinson, who continue to blossom in the Heat system.
While a knee injury has sidelined him for most of the season, Hampton–who joined the Heat in Charlotte earlier this week–recently opened up to the media about what separates the Heat’s developmental organization from the rest of the NBA.
“I think it’s just very detailed, just the time that everybody takes,” Hampton said, according to Anthony Chiang of the Miami Herald. “A lot of places, you have maybe a player development guy. They’re not maybe in tune with what the coach is wanting. They might not connect. But here, it’s very detailed.
“[Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra] is very detailed with the staff about what he wants to be done with certain players. You see that because of all the guys in the Heat’s history who have gone on to do major things.
“It’s just a credit to the top. It all starts at the top. It it doesn’t start at the top, that’s when you don’t see the developmental stages in other programs, other organizations. That’s just a credit to [Pat Riley], Spo and their attention to detail with that.”
While the majority of Miami’s recent developmental projects have been plucked from the undrafted tub, Hampton carries the unique distinction of being a first-round pick. He was selected No. 24 overall in the 2020 NBA Draft by the Denver Nuggets.
Though Hampton’s time in Denver did not last long. He was eventually traded midseason as a rookie in the four-player Aaron Gordon-to-Denver trade ahead of the 2020-21 trade deadline in March. Hampton was waived by Orlando in Feb. 2023, signed with the Detroit Pistons and was waived by them over the summer.
The soon-to-be 23-year-old has averaged 7.0 points on 41.0 percent shooting, including 34.2 percent from 3-point range, across 163 career games (18 starts). That comes in addition to 2.8 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 0.6 steals in 18.7 minutes; his averages boost to roughly 13.7 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.1 steals on a per 75 possession basis.
Hampton is a defensive-minded guard who’s solid at the point-of-attack, but cited how invested Spoelstra is at developing his overall game within different contexts.
“Spo has just reiterated to me that he sees the talent level in me, and he just wants to max that out,” Hampton said. “Whether that’s to be a point guard or whether that’s to be a shooting guard. I’ve been working with the shooting coach, Rob [Fodor], pretty much every day since I’ve been here, perfecting my shot and getting that down pat, whether that’s off the dribble or catch-and-shoots. I think with whatever the team needs, I feel like I’m going to be 100 percent ready to do that.”
Hampton has only played one game with the Heat so far this season. A two-way contract, which guarantees players $559,782–half the 2023-24 minimum salary for first-year rookies–allows players to play a maximum of 50 regular season games with the NBA squad, though it does not grant them playoff eligibility. And don’t be surprised if his name’s called upon soon amid Dru Smith’s unfortunate season-ending knee injury, even though he might be asked to do a lot in his first NBA action since Oct. 28.
“As long as the orange ball bounces, I’m good,” Hampton said. “I’m happy to just play wherever and develop, and hopefully bring a lot to this team.”
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