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Could Jakarr Sampson Be Closing In On A Return To The NBA?

After spending the last two years with the 76ers and Nuggets, JaKarr Sampson is in the D-League to help make his way back to the NBA.

NBA: Denver Nuggets-Media Day Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Prior to his resignation from the Philadelphia 76ers last April, Sam Hinkie was probably the most controversial figure in the entire NBA, whether we’re discussing on and off-court figures. That controversial nature was due to Hinkie “Process” which pushed the team to push out any kind of valuable veteran presence in favor of doing whatever you can to build your team full of young up-and-coming players.

Of course, that method ultimately led the team to struggle for an extended period of time which ultimately brought up the term “tanking”. That term was definitely warranted as the team finished 47-137 during Hinkie’s three seasons as the 76ers GM.

While critics around the NBA had good reason to critique Hinkie during his run with the team, there still remained one significant upside: As Hinkie and the 76ers looked to build their battalion of top-flight prospects, the team looked towards undrafted players or D-Leaguers to help fill out their rotation.

Although that move brought a bevy of criticism towards the city of Brotherly Love, it offered a rare opportunity to a crop of young players. Rather than heading to Europe or the D-League, some young prospects could look at the 76ers as a way to get solid money while playing against elite NBA talent on a night-by-night basis. While the actual basketball may not have been that entertaining, it was a great learning experience for players that probably wouldn’t make it on any other NBA roster.

An example of a player that took advantage of that 76ers opportunity was 6’8 forward JaKarr Sampson who was just coming off a solid two-year career at St. John’s. Although he didn’t enter the NBA as a top-flight prospect, Sampson was still able to get a significant role due to Philly’s situation. During his rookie season in 2014-15, Sampson actually started 32 games with the 76ers as he averaged 5.2 points and 2.2 rebounds on 42% from the field in 15.3 minutes per game. Within that season, Sampson shined due to the combination of incredible athleticism and aggression which led to some rim-rocking plays.

Despite shining in some moments during his rookie season, Sampson was unable to gain a more significant role with the 76ers during his sophomore season. During his 2nd season, Sampson’s role actually took a microscopic hit as he put up 5.1 points and 2.7 rebounds on 43% from the field in only 14.7 minutes per game. That limited role unfortunately pushed the 76ers to waive Sampson on February 18th in able to acquire Joel Anthony, who they waived in the following day.

Four days after leaving Philly, JaKarr Sampson was able to catch on with the Denver Nuggets. Similar to to his time with the 76ers, Sampson didn’t have a significant role with the team as he played 18 minutes per game. However, Sampson was still able to throw down some huge slams.

Similar to other NBA alums that we’ve already covered, JaKarr Sampson looked to the D-League as a way to return to the NBA. After being waived by the Memphis Grizzlies after a 24-hour stint, Sampson joined Kellen Dunham, Wayne Selden and Matt Costello as affiliate players that would join the Iowa energy. This transition to the Energy would mark the start of Sampson’s NBA redemption tour.

Over the course of his first month-and-a-half in the D-League, Sampson has shined as arguably one of the best forwards in the entire league. In 19 games, Sampson averaged 15.3 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.6 assists on 47% from the field in 29 minutes per game. Sampson would undoubtedly get more playing time with the team if the Energy also didn’t have former Thunder prospect Perry Jones.

Despite his somewhat limited role with the team, Sampson has shined on the offensive end due to his knack to getting to the rim whenever he desires, whether it’s through on or off-ball cuts. Off-ball, Sampson does a nice job of taking advantage any mishap that the opposing team might have. From the moment that Sampson first takes advantage of that, he immediately becomes a major alley-oop threat due to his great hops.

As an on-ball cutter, Sampson impresses in part to the combination of his solid handles and acceleration. It’s honestly a joy to watch Sampson work with the ball as the 6’8 forward can just blow past any forward or muscle his way through guards. Following that initial victory, Sampson continues to impress as he can utilize a side-step or spin move on any opposing player that would otherwise deter his path towards the basket. Sampson’s incredible spin move is seen in the play below.

Even if he can’t finish at the rim with a rim-rocking dunk or a smooth layup, Sampson can still score around the basket due to his soft touch. That soft touch allows Sampson to utilize little floaters (like what you see above) or through post-ups. In post-ups, Sampsosn usually works on the left block where he can showcase a smooth spin move or a solid little hook. Sampson’s success inside the paint, whether it’s as a cutter or post-up threat, is seen through him shooting 67% from inside the restricted area. An example of Sampson’s hook shot is seen in the play below.

Sampson’s final method of attack on the offensive end is as a mid-range shooter. Although he occasionally venture out to the perimeter, Sampson seems more comfortable with working someone off the dribble and finishing with a mid-range jumper. Although he hasn’t been super efficient in this particular area, Sampson still shows some amount of potential for growth as we continue with the season.

As has been the case since his time with the Philadelphia 76ers, Sampson’s best spot as a defensive player is as a free safety that can work around the court. Due to his quick footwork and solid frame, Sampson has done a fine job in that role while with the Energy. Currently , Sampson is averaging 1.3 steals and 1 blocks per 36 minutes. Although that aren’t the most eye-popping numbers, it’s still a sign that he can be a well-rounded defender.

During his stint with the Iowa Energy, JaKarr Sampson has basically been the same kind of player that he was in the NBA but with an increased role. Although that has allowed him to shine as one of the top D-League forwards, Sampson still has some work to do before he make that NBA return.

Most of that potential improvement rests with his lack of versatility on the offensive end. Currently, Sampson just shines as someone that can score around the rim as a cutter and post-up threat. Before NBA teams can take him seriously as an NBA prospect, he’s going to have to show off more of a mid-range or perimeter game than he currently does. As of the time of this piece, Sampson is shooting 28% from beyond the arc and 27% from mid-range. If he can make some drastic improvement to both of those numbers, then there’s a definite shot that he can return to the NBA. But until then, Energy fans will be able to see one of the most entertaining players in the NBADL.