In what may be a surprise to some, but a known possibility for others, St. John's forward JaKarr Sampson has declared for the NBA draft. Sampson, the 2013 Big East Rookie of the Year, was known to be pondering a graduation to the pros.
"JaKarr will forego his final two years of eligibility and pursue his dream of playing in the NBA. We are grateful for JaKarr's contributions to our St. John’s basketball program," said Red Storm head coach Steve Lavin. "In speaking with NBA general managers JaKarr is projected as a draft prospect with intriguing talent and upside."
Sampson is St. John's second-leading scorer at just under 13 points per game; with seniors God`sGift Achiuwa and Orlando Sanchez graduating, a thin frontcourt for St. john's becomes thinner as Sampson pursues his NBA dreams.
Like Moe Harkless before him, the long forward hopes to land with an NBA team that is interested in taking his raw athleticism and developing a full player. And Sampson isn't just taking a peek at the pro level; he says that he is "fully committed" to going pro.
"I plan to hire an agent soon," he said.
"This wasn't a quick decision," Sampson added, "but it’s been something I’ve been considering for more than a year. I took my time and spoke with key people. Right now [my NBA dream is] close. It’s reachable."
Though this year's NBA draft is said to be stacked, Sampson - who has not appeared on any widely-regarded prospective draft boards - plans on taking his skills to the professional level.
"I've heard a lot of comparisons to Paul George," Sampson said when talking about his NBA comparables. "That’s the main one."
Steve Lavin supports Sampson - who says he will come back to school for his degree - and hopes the Red Storm send another player from one of his rosters to the NBA, joining Maurice Harkless and the players in the class of 2011 who have spent time on summer league rosters.
Sampson averaged 13 points per game in Big East play, adding just under 6 rebounds for the 20-13 St. John's Red Storm. He shot 1/5 from beyond the arc this season over all, and 50% inside the arc - often on pick and pop or transition jump shots from 18-15 feet. His career high was 21 points against Butler in Madison Square Garden.
Sampson also averaged over 3 fouls per contest and drew 47 foul shots.
Despite the numbers, Sampson has great size and athleticism. From the Asbury Park Press, Josh Newman spoke to a scout on Sampson:
"He has a world of talent and this is a big year for him. He has the opportunity in the Big East to take a major step. He’s been a little in and out so far, and consistency is the hallmark we’re looking for out of him. 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."
On Zagsblog in February, Newman heard again from scouts:
"He is a raw, athletic talent that needs to continue to work on becoming a more consistent perimeter shooter as well as improve his ball skills (passing, ball handling) to be a more efficient 3 at the NBA level. He has first-round potential."
And from Draft Express:
For all of his size and athletic advantages, he made just 53% of his shots around the basket from the power forward position, due in large part to his lack of strength, poor decision making skills and inability to dribble or finish with his off hand. He is limited to, more or less, straight line right-handed drives to the basket, not possessing much in the way of advanced ball-handling moves, and is susceptible to turnovers due to his high dribble and the predictability of his offensive game. Defenses like to sag off him because of how shaky his outside jumper is, and Sampson isn't capable of punishing them consistently enough.
With that said, Sampson shows potential as a shot-creator in the half-court, as he has an excellent first step and some raw ability to make pull-up jumpers off the dribble. Despite getting excellent elevation on his jumper and possessing a high release point, Sampson has limited range from the perimeter and is largely a non-threat with his feet set from beyond the arc, as he sports very poor shooting mechanics. He is more effective shooting off the dribble, mostly from the mid-range, where he made 40% of his attempts last season.
His lack of range hurts his NBA prospects significantly, though, as it's virtually impossible to find perimeter players these days that are not capable of making shots from beyond the arc at all. Sampson missed all eight of his three point field goal attempts last season, and his poor mechanics don't leave a lot of room for optimism regarding his ability to improve in this area, unless he completely retools his jump-shot.
Has he shown enough to make the leap to the NBA level?