Expectations were fairly low for JaKarr Sampson when he joined the team as an undrafted free agent out of training camp last year, and rightfully so. The lanky sophomore out of St. John’s was nothing but length, hops and goofy hair (RIP), and seamlessly filled into the “athletically gifted, bankrupt of talent” archetype that’s engulfed every cynical narrative surrounding the team and inspired more hot takes than not.
But JaKarr Sampson has NBA skills. Actual, quantifiable, useful NBA-caliber abilities; it’s just a matter of congealing them into a formidable, well-rounded skill-set.
For one – and Sampson gets little to no credit for this – he’s an incredibly capable and proficient ball-handler. Vantage Sports tracks a statistic called Dribble Factor, which measures the increase and decrease in a player’s field goal percentage after dribbling the basketball. JaKarr led the NBA last season, with a 12.5 percent uptick when putting the ball on the floor at least once compared to zero times (31.4 percent).
As Jordan M. Foley notes at Vantage, this perhaps exemplifies how poor of an outside shooter Sampson is as much as he is a skilled ball-handler. But Sampson shot over 64 percent from inside three feet last season (82-127), where the vast majority of his offense came from (37 percent), per basketball-reference, and although his outside game is nothing short of putrid, he finds his comfort zone inside off-the-bounce.
Sampson is far more comfortable going to the rim, and he converted an obviously circumstantial, but passable 51-102 two-point field goal attempts upon completion of 1-2 dribbles, and that rate remains flat on 3-6 dribbles as well as 7+, per SportVU tracking data. Aside from his knack for getting to the rim, he loves to push the ball in transition, which has come in handy for the team the last couple of years as they’ve lacked any semblance of a reliable creator in the half-court.
Shooting from the outside, Sampson barely scratched the surface of league-average when he was what SportVU tracking deemed “wide open”, shooting 21-59 (35.6 percent). At 22, the clock is ticking on perimeter scoring development, and anything more than a catch-and-shoot game hovering around league average is unrealistic; that ceiling is probably barely attainable as it is, given his shaky mechanics.
On the other end, he works his tail off and defends three-pointers effectively (34.4 percent) within the team’s scheme, thanks to some help from a seven-foot wingspan in furious closeouts. He struggled to contain penetration, but to keep things in perspective, the transition from defending Big East wings to NBA wings isn’t the easiest.
To carve out a tangible role in the NBA, Sampson needs to stick with what he does best: pushing the ball in transition off of defensive boards and turnovers, and slashing. Improved finishing at the rim should come with more reps, and it still remains to be seen how much the Sixers players can improve if/when they’re playing off of respected offensive threats in an even semi-productive half-court offense.
Either way, Sampson has something many Sixers prospects grasp at straws for: identifiable NBA abilities. Heading into a crucial second year of development, his trajectory is trending in the right direction, and as Sohil also aptly broke down, he certainly has his work cut out for him.