In 2019, the eyes of the wider basketball world will fall on the NBL.

Tasked with developing two of the top prospects in the United States, the once niche Australasian competition will have interest on a worldwide scale – with the New Zealand Breakers and Illawarra Hawks at the centre of it.

Earlier this month, the Breakers announced the signing of RJ Hampton, who snubbed offers from top collegiate programmes to spend a year playing professional before being eligible of the NBA draft. This week, his path was followed by LaMelo Ball, who will join former NBA guard Aaron Brooks in Hawks colours this season.

Because of the signings, matches between the Breakers and Hawks will be the most anticipated of the season.

Both Hampton and Ball are considered to be drafted inside the top 10 in the 2020 NBA draft, with the decisions to join the NBL following the trend started by Oklahoma City Thunder guard Terrance Ferguson.


"I've talked to Terrance Ferguson, I've been cool with him for a very long time," Hampton tells the Herald. "He just told me the league is physical, you have to compete and play both sides of the ball at all times. That's what I'm looking forward to doing."

Terrance Ferguson played for Adelaide in the NBL before being drafted by the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2017. Photo / Getty
Terrance Ferguson played for Adelaide in the NBL before being drafted by the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2017. Photo / Getty

Ferguson spent a season with the Adelaide 36ers in the 2016-17 NBL season, before being selected by the Thunder with the 21st pick in the 2017 NBA draft. With Hampton and Ball already having a high profile in their homeland, the decisions will likely have a roll-on effect in years to come.

Ball boasts arguably the highest profile of any prospect in the 2020 NBA draft, with his brother Lonzo having been in the world's top league since 2017, while his father, Lavar, has a habit of making his voice heard in the media.

For Hampton, the decision to bring his talents to Auckland didn't take long to reach.

"[It didn't take] very much thought at all," he admits. "I really thought it was the best decision for me.

"I know this league is physical, it's very competitive, there's some great vets over there – Corey Webster, Bryce Cotton. So I know a few things … it's more about playing with the older competition and getting ready for the 2020 draft."

He should have every opportunity to display his lethal shooting and silky ball handling after the Breakers released incumbent point guard Shea Ili, who has joined Melbourne United for the upcoming season.

Hampton believes if he had been allowed to declare his eligibility for this year's draft, he would have been able to contribute in the league straight away. But with the league's rule that all players must be a year removed from high school before being able to put themselves forward for the draft, he'll use that year to prove his worth.


"I feel like if I were to go to the NBA tomorrow I could play. I feel like I could go in there and make some good things happen, but I feel like after a year I'll be able to make a big impact on the game at a high level."

The decision to play a season in the NBL has been praised by Chicago Bulls legend Scottie Pippen, who noted Australasia had a great reputation in the States for developing young talent.

"These players going there realise they're getting a huge advantage in terms of getting ready for the NBA draft," Pippen told ESPN. "This is a great move for a lot of young players and they're going to the right country."