Orlando Magic have given R.J. Hampton his chance to shine

R.J. Hampton was seeking an opportunity on the court. The young Orlando Magic have given him every chance to shine. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
R.J. Hampton was seeking an opportunity on the court. The young Orlando Magic have given him every chance to shine. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports /

R.J. Hampton was hungry for an opportunity.

Every young player would be. Especially when they are on a team with championship aspirations. It can be hard for them to make their mark. They have to work behind the scenes and wait for their chance.

The Denver Nuggets were still excited for what Hampton, the No. 5 player in the high school class of 2019 according to 247Sports.com who chose to play in the NBL in Australia, could be. They just could not find the time or space to let him grow and learn on the floor.

Hampton showed exactly why the Denver Nuggets believed in him so much once he got on the floor though.

Unfortunately for the Nuggets, it came for him in a Magic uniform. With the championship in sight, the Nuggets pushed all in on Aaron Gordon and had to give up the promising young guard to get him.

The Magic were happy to take the chance on the talented guard. And even five games in, they are seeing plenty in him to believe in as they begin their rebuild.

This is his chance and so far he is taking advantage of it.

R.J. Hampton struggled to get off the bench with the loaded Denver Nuggets despite his clear talent. With the Orlando Magic, the 19-year-old guard is starting to shine and grow.

Take a key play in the third quarter of the Orlando Magic’s loss to the Denver Nuggets.

With the Magic trying to hold onto their lead, Dwayne Bacon drove the lane and missed a contested layup. Jamal Murray was trailing and grabbed the rebound. But Hampton caught up behind him and stole the ball, staying in bounds as he leaped to catch up to Murray.

R.J. Hampton kicked the ball back out to Terrence Ross who fed it back to him in the corner for a three. The play deserves to be watched and marveled at:

This was an incredible display of athleticism and timing. A sign of what Hampton can do and the plays he can make. These are not the plays of someone who deserves to be buried on the bench.

His circumstance in Denver was clearly just a matter of the Nuggets’ place in the NBA hierarchy and not about Hampton or his ability. Free from the championship spotlight, Hampton is stepping up and making an impact as the Magic begin their rebuild.

His speed is already the biggest thing that stands out. Without a combine for much of the 2020 Draft class, there is no baseline to try to compare Hampton’s speed. But it is evident in watching him how much he belongs and that he might have an elite talent already.

"“He’s a talented young guy,” Ross said after Sunday’s loss. “He has a lot of skills to his game. He is trying to figure everything out right now. Any time I can talk to him and give him a little bit of advice, I try to. The only way you are going to learn is by playing and going through this and getting those repetitions. Just make sure you are getting game minutes. He’ll figure it out. He has a bright future, he’s super talented. He’s going to be ok.”"

A lot of Hampton’s promise just needed the time on the court to blossom. And with the opportunity of consistent playing time, Hampton has displayed what made him such a promising prospect in the draft process.

During one of his first games with the team on this West Coast trip in Los Angeles, Hampton was able to get the ball off an outlet and rocket up the court past the defense for a layup. That is abundantly his best NBA skill.

Everything else is still piecing together.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

Hampton is averaging 10.2 points per game and shooting a 48.9-percent effective field goal percentage in his five games with the Magic. He is also grabbing 4.4 rebounds per game, where his speed, athleticism and size are helping him battle on the glass.

Hampton entered the draft process considered a poor shooter. But his work with former Magic forward Mike Miller is clearly paying off. Hampton has hit on only 3 of 11 3-pointers so far, including two in the loss to the Nuggets. But Hampton is shooting confidently, stopping on a dime to shoot on the run.

This will remain a work in progress and an important skill for him to develop.

But still, Hampton’s best impact is his ability to attack the basket on a straight line and trying to finish at the rim. He still has work to do on that front but the results are already promising.

Hampton averages 7.0 drives per game in his five games with the Magic, shooting 46.7-percent from the floor off these drives but also turning the ball over on 11.4-percent of those possessions according to data from Second Spectrum. Nineteen of his 46 field goal attempts have come within 10 feet of the basket, and he is making 68.4-percent of those shots.

The early returns are that Hampton gives himself plenty of opportunities to score at the rim and put pressure on the defense. But he still has a lot to learn about how to use his speed effectively and become more efficient.

He seems eager to do so and for the opportunity to do so.

"“I think it’s all about approach coming into every game,” Hampton said after Sunday’s loss. “Working on something you did not too great the game before. I critique myself every game and try to get better, listen to the coaching staff, playing together with my teammates and trying to get wins most importantly.”"

All the potential is there for Hampton to be a dangerous playmaker and scorer. He is certainly not the first speedster who needed to learn how to control the pace of his game.

Like with fellow rookie Chuma Okeke, coach Steve Clifford wants to be careful with the role R.J. Hampton plays and how he develops.

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  • Clifford said he was hesitant to play Hampton at point guard as a sign of his development. The Magic view his best chance for success at the moment is as an off guard. Even in Sunday’s game where he was forced to play point guard, Clifford would have another player bring the ball up and pass it to Hampton to initiate the offense.

    Still, Hampton has had to play the position by necessity thanks to Michael Carter-Williams’ illness. And that may be his natural position at the end of the day until his shooting improves.

    Orlando is still formulating a plan to further his development.

    The first step though was clearly getting on the court, to begin with, and getting consistent minutes. He has averaged 22.4 minutes per game with the Magic, after averaging only 9.3 per game with the Nuggets.

    All young players need to kickstart their careers is an opportunity and a chance. Some earn it immediately with the veterans, others can only show flashes and simply need the daylight and watering to sprout and find their role.

    Hampton has already provided plenty of reason to believe and continue investing in his growth and development. All he needed was the time and space to begin growing.

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    The question moving forward will be how he and the magic are able to harness and grow his talents now that he has the time and opportunity to do so.