On the Rumble, we fully support players (like Jakarr Sampson) leaving school early to pursue their professional dreams. Why do we go to college, anyway? It's not just for the socialization or to entertain others - we're all aiming at a better life, a future, potential earnings, personal fulfillment, aren't we?
So we start this with wishes of good luck and good tidings to Sampson this Thursday as he hopes to hear his name called at the Barclays Center this June 26. St. John's will miss him, and could really use his mix of length and athleticism next year.
And with the needs of the Red Storm team in mind, fans of St. John's and the hoops punditry at large loudly and regularly questioned the decision of St. John's forward JaKarr Sampson to leave college early. Sampson was a solid player, but didn't make the Big East's first or second team last season after his Rookie of the Year honors in 2012-13.
His season was a mirror of St. John's - decent, but fans expected more. And it wasn't because Sampson was stifled, or lacking shots attempts. He just needed improvement.
There is room for improvement in the wing, a top-100 player out of St. Vincent/ St. Mary's in Ohio and Brewster Academy in New England.
But at 21 years of age as a sophomore, he feels it is time for him to spread his wings and try to impress people in NBA level workouts, leaving the security of college for the unknown of the pro ranks.
Does his decision add up to a smart one?
Level of NBA interest = kicking the proverbial tires
Sampson's workout period hasn't been quiet. Often with other wings and other second-round picks in what should be a deep draft, Jakarr has worked out for the Suns, Clippers, Grizzlies, Kings, Celtics, Mavericks and others - nine teams in total, he says.
An interview from his Kings workout is a profile of a player with hope:
Is the hope justified?
Jakarr Sampson's NBA Draft capsule = dunks + highlights
From BigEast.org, a look at a short mixtape that highlights the best of Sampson. Highlights, of course, don't make a season; Mario Chalmers has highlights. Jan Vesley has highlights. Austin Rivers has highlights.
Highlights don't make a prospect. Still, there are some nice dunks in here.
Jakarr Sampson player profile = potential
Sampson, playing wing and forward for a St. John's team with a number of offensive options, took the second-highest percentage of shots while on the floor. Offensively, his best asset was his ability to not turn the ball over. Like many St. John's players, he looked to attack and score once he touched the ball.
On defense, his length allowed him to block over 3.5% of shots that came his way, a very good number considering the presence of other shot-blockers in Chris Obekpa (one of the best in the country at 15.7% of shots blocked) and Orlando Sanchez (blocked 5.4% of shots) and Sir`Dominic Pointer (blocked 5.4% of shots).
Later in the season, his defense was a factor in making scoring tough on Doug McDermott - who scored against St. John's in both contests, but out of the flow of the Creighton offense. With work, his defense can be a plus.
From the DraftExpress profile:
For as mixed as his prospects are on the offensive end of the floor, Sampson looks like he can develop into a formidable defender in time, while already showing intriguing potential as a freshman. His size, length and lateral quickness allow him to stay in front of perimeter players and, thanks to his size, he should have little trouble guarding NBA small forwards as long as he continues to get stronger. His lack of strength hurts him, particularly, in trying to hold his position in the post, where he sees a good amount of time collegiately at the power forward position.
Draft Likelihood = not strong
These are great things, but likely not impressive enough to get Sampson drafted.
The reasons Sampson has some intrigue to scouts is his raw athleticism. Pro-Sampson fans will point out that he's money from the mid-range, but a closer look at what that phrase means leads to "damning with faint praise"... because he shoots most of his shots from mid-range, the least efficient location for a player to try and score.
Per hoop-math, just under 61% of his shots were two-point jumpers, and 38% were shots at the rim. That is a lot of two-pointers - more than most players take.
Our friends at VUHoops have even provided a shot chart:
Note that the shot chart only includes some games where shot chart data was available online, and we thank Corollary and youngBuck. For more on their methodology and what the various zones mean, see VU Hoops.
But those are a lot of shots from around the free throw line, and sprayed all around the inside of the arc. Yes, Sampson got to the basket, but he wasn't the rim-rocker that he could have been.
Let's also look at one of his better games, against Providence:
He can get shots against slower forwards on the perimeter, can get putbacks, and has an unconventional shot; but a player who wants to cast himself as a shooter needs to hit three-pointers. Sampson often chose to catch just inside the three-point line or even step inside the line for a shot.
The problems with the shot selection?
The long two-pointer is a shot that defenses from college on WANT opponents to take - they are low-percentage shots that don't enjoy the benefit of being worth an extra point (like a three-pointer) or likely to draw fouls (like a shot at the rim). Shots at the rim are also higher percentage shots. Given Sampson's length and quickness advantage, those are the shots he would get in a perfect world.
But Sampson, while solid from the long-two-pointer range, lacks the dribbling skill and strength to score through contact at this point to become a deadly force driving to the paint.
And because of the shot selection, an athlete who should be able to impose his will is less effective in the paint than his raw talent says he should be, and draws fewer fouls than he could.
Sampson is relatively consistent, scoring in double-digits in 23 of his 33 games last season with very good games against the likes of Butler (11/15 fgm/fga, career-high 23 points), but unable to put a team on his back with 30-point scoring outbursts. Additionally, Jakarr Sampson is largely dependent on passing from other players or St. John's transition game to get shots - not a creative scoring force under pressure.
Takeaways and feedback = hard work is needed
Sampson came into the season with NBA scouts intrigued by his tools. From the Asbury Park Press, a quote from November:
He’s a first-round talent, but we’re looking for first-round production. There’s no question he’ll benefit from this second year in school in terms of his maturity, strength, the whole thing.
This year wasn't first-round production, but Sampson feels he can develop faster on the next level with more dedicated time for skill development, even if his years in college didn't add up to a first-round pick. He doesn't have the tools to make his athleticism a deadly weapon, but he does have raw tools that others don't have. The NBA has drafted raw players before, molding the ones willing to work and who catch the eye of the right basketball people.
"I feel like the chance to pursue my dream is available right now," he said when he announced his decision to leave St. John's. He had been thinking about the decision to go pro - or trying not to think about it - all season.
The idea of going pro has been on Sampson's mind since before he came to St. John's. Getting paid to get better is superior to going to classes and then having restricted time to improve, even if the training and court time come free to the player.
Yesterday, he told the NY Post:
Spoke to JaKarr Sampson Found this interesting "Felt like I could definitely develop faster in NBA or D-League than could in college"#sjubb— Zach Braziller (@NYPost_Brazille) June 24, 2014
Shot choices and skills can be corrected. Sampson says he is "100 percent committed to making myself the best professional basketball player I can be," but so are many other hungry players.
Not all of those players have Sampson's athletic gifts, and that will hopefully separate him from the pack. And if he can package the shooting skill with range and an ability to get to the rim through traffic, he's a different and more viable player. Right now, he's a player with defensive potential and open-court athleticism in wide open games.
Besides that open-court athleticism, what does Jakarr want NBA teams to take away from his workouts?
JaKarr Sampson on what he wants teams to take away from his workouts:"That I'm a hard worker. I'm never going to stop wanting to get better"— Boston Celtics (@celtics) June 21, 2014
Hard work is needed for the uphill climb Sampson has to reach the NBA - along with an improvement in skills around the court. He wants it, and he has enough athletic upside that increased strength and skill could get him a real shot at the NBA - but it will be a circuitous ride for the long forward from Akron, Ohio.