R.J. Hampton would have been a top pick if not for a rough season in Australia. Now he is slipping through the cracks and falling to the Orlando Magic.
The Orlando Magic are on a star search.
That is a difficult thing to do with the 15th pick, although there are plenty of players who slip through the cracks every year. Players with injury issues or players who did not perform in the previous year.
These are players with immense talent that for whatever reason do not click before they enter the Draft process.
The Magic are hunting for these players. These guys who have all the skill and talent in the world, but have not found their fit and have not put it all together. Perhaps growing in a smaller role on a winning team will help them realize that lost potential.
Perhaps the reason they slipped through the cracks is some physical limitation or a bad fit. Perhaps they just needed to be humbled to get back into the gym and work again.
The Magic are searching for these players. Supremely talented and hungry for a second chance. Hungry for an opportunity to make good on those chances.
R.J. Hampton is that player in this Draft. He was the No. 6 prospect in the Rivals150 for the Class of 2019. He had a bright future ahead of him as a scorer and playmaker, a combo guard with some playmaking skills but the perfect size for a shooting guard.
Instead of playing in college he opted to play overseas in Australia. His struggles in his one year there had his stock drop a bit. He did not fare well against the professional players a world away from his Texas home.
But while his poor performance may have dulled some of his luster, Hampton still has plenty of talent and plenty of ability to make a mark in the NBA. A player of his caliber and talent would have to be considered a steal at 15 and well worth the risk on his potential.
When talking about Hampton, the first word that comes to mind would be: Playmaker.
He is an incredibly explosive player when looking at the film. He can blow by guards with a 6-foot-5, 181-pound frame that can get to the basket at will at times. He can finish with either hand consistently and is getting better at pick and roll offense as he develops.
But there is a problem: people kept comparing him to fellow point guard LaMelo Ball, and it cost him his top-5 draft stock which he held a year ago.
The two guards played in the same league, the National Basketball League in Australia, and Ball thrived while Hampton struggled. Hampton played for the New Zealand Breakers and averaged 8.8 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game in 15 games. Ball, on the other hand, averaged 17 points, 7.6 rebounds and and 6.8 assists in 12 games.
There is a clear difference as to why these two players have such different averages and it is in the minute totals, where Ball was able to get consistent playing time and Hampton wasn’t. Ball averaged 31.3 minutes per game, and Hampton averaged 20.6 minutes per game.
If you extrapolate the averages over 36 minutes, Hampton’s averages start to look a lot better at 15.4 points, 6.8 rebounds and 4.2 assists and 1.9 steals as well.
A big part of that shift was Hampton’s shooting percentage.
Hampton is not a very good shooter, at least up to this point. He could develop into a shooter in time, but the strength in his game is not from making shots from beyond the arc, so Hampton would be one of the players who dishes the ball, not necessarily one of the ones firing it up from range.
His three-point percentage for the 2020 season was 29.5 percent, which is pedestrian, to say the least, as he only averaged 0.9 makes per game.
That has been what Hampton has worked on the most during the hiatus and five extra months he received before the Draft. He reportedly went to work with former Orlando Magic forward and Memphis Tigers assistant coach Mike Miller to improve his shooting. There have been encouraging signs on that front, but nobody knows how it will translate to a real game.
It is hard to imagine Hampton making much of an impact if his shooting does not come around.
His game is taking on his defender and either scoring at the rim or finding a shooter on the perimeter for an open shot. He’s adept at that.
But Hampton is a curious case. He entered his play overseas as a player with top-5 pick potential. He would have gone to Kansas had he not decided to play in New Zealand.
The talent is undoubtedly there. But the poor season overseas has given everyone pause and created the opportunity for the Magic to draft a player with true star potential.
With the combination of Markelle Fultz and R.J. Hampton in the backcourt, it would be a lethal duo when it comes to making plays even if neither is exactly a threat from outside. Fultz has become a very good mid-range shooter, and Hampton is usually one of the fastest players on the court when he’s out there.
Hampton had the opportunity to play against NBA teams before when he faced off against Ja Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies and Chris Paul and the Oklahoma City Thunder in two preseason games.
He did not fare especially well in either of these games.
Against the Grizzlies he scored only two points in 20 minutes on 1-for-8 shooting and had a -17 plus-minus which was the worst of any Breakers player that day. And against the Thunder, he was able to score eight points in 30 minutes on 2-for-11 shooting but pitched in five assists and four rebounds.
That being said, these games were back in October 2019, and during the course of the season, he made strides to improve his game and develop.
So as these results were signs for concern and certainly were major reasons his draft stock was lowered, Hampton has major upside, and would be a good addition to the Magic if they are looking to add length and athleticism to its backcourt.