Orlando Magic Rookie Review: R.J. Hampton Then and Now

R.J. Hampton came out of high school with one of the best mixtapes and NBA bounce. After playing a year with the New Zealand Breakers, where he showed enough to get him drafted in the first round, he finds himself now with a rebuilding Orlando Magic.

We profiled Hampton before the 2020 draft and the consensus around the league was that he was raw but talented.

Drafted 24th by the Denver Nuggets, Hampton would find little playing time early in his career. But now that he has gotten some time on the court with the Magic, his strengths and his weaknesses have begun to break through the post-draft fog.

R.J. Hampton was a bit of a mystery in the draft process after an inconsistent pro run in Australia with the New Zealand Breakers. But the young guard has shown his talent so far with the Orlando Magic.

In 10 games with the Magic, Hampton is averaging 22.8 minutes, 9.6 points and is shooting 29.6-percent from three. In his 25 games with the Nuggets, he averaged nine minutes, 2.6 points and shot 27.8-percent from behind the arc.

The little playing time he got before coming to Orlando can mostly be attributed to playing behind established guards like Jamal Murray, Monte Morris and Facundo Campazzo. The Nuggets were not necessarily looking to play Hampton in meaningful minutes due to their finals aspirations.

In a recent chat he hosted on Locker Room, Hampton said the Nuggets front office, despite reticence in giving up such a young and talented player, told him they wanted to give him a clearer chance at getting playing time. He viewed the trade to Orlando as an opportunity for him and a favor from Denver’s front office, whom Hampton said he still has some contact with.

A championship team is a difficult place for a raw player to develop with the pressure each moment brings and how much those teams need fully realized player. But with the Magic, the situation is quite the opposite.

The Magic are 14th in the Eastern Conference and have committed to a youth movement. The goal is player development and looking toward evaluating players around Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac when they return next season. Until the return of the team’s two young stars, there are plenty of minutes to go around.

Hampton has taken full advantage of this opportunity and shown that he may deserve a spot alongside Fultz in the backcourt.

For now, coach Steve Clifford has tried to limit Hampton’s minutes at point guard, hoping to build him up off the ball and ease the pressure on him to organize and run the team. The team has tried to figure out the best way to harness Hampton’s blinding speed and put him in a position where he can help the team succeed.

To understand Hampton’s growth, current play and what his future looks like, we have to start at the draft.

Hampton Falls in the Draft

Looking back at our draft preview on R.J. Hampton, we highlighted several things: Evaluating the risk and reward of drafting potential over proven play, Hampton’s athleticism and his inconsistent shooting.

With the Breakers, Hampton averaged 8.8 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game in 15 games. While his play did not exactly do him any good, it was still a sample size against legitimate competition.

Most of the mock drafts that came out had Hampton going anywhere from 14-20. While the predictions were varied, the verdict was consistent: He was raw, very raw.

For the most part, that is how Hampton’s season has gone so far. Typically, young, skinny guards with more athleticism than tangible skill struggle in the first few years of their career.

Take Zach LaVine, for example.

In LaVine’s first season in the league, the 19-year-old averaged 24.7 minutes, 10.1 points and shot 34.1-percent from behind the arc. If you remember, LaVine was already being written off when he was traded off to Chicago in the Jimmy Butler deal even after he showed of some of his scoring chops. But LaVine steadily improved every year and has become one of the league’s leading scorers.

Hampton has not proven himself as capable of a scorer as LaVine was even in those early years. Hampton’s main focus before the Draft and into next season is to improve his outside shot. Like many young, athletic and speedy players, he has to get comfortable enough on the court to slow down. Oftentimes, it feels like Hampton is going way too fast.

The Orlando Magic are in a different position than the Minnesota Timberwolves were a couple of years ago and in a vastly different situation than the Chicago Bulls. This makes the Magic one of the best teams Hampton could play on. There is enough room for him to stretch his legs while also not having the responsibility of performing every single game.

Have patience, the Hampton hype train is just leaving the station.

That’s Great, But How is he Playing Now?

R.J. Hampton’s numbers are not particularly dazzling, especially his shooting numbers. A clunky shooting form and a tendency to cough the ball up off of questionable decisions hides what he has been able to bring to the team.

As you would expect from a 20-year-old, his energy seems endless. You will never really find Hampton sitting around after a rebound. In this play for example, against his former team, the Magic grab the rebound and James Ennis is running down the floor.

You do not actually see until Ennis crosses half-court that Hampton is already ahead of the pack looking for a lob.

Hampton also has shown enough awareness to know when to attack a settling defense. In this clip, Hampton doesn’t wait for Utah’s defense to get set.

He sees that Jordan Clarkson and Royce O’Neal are about to unknowingly collide. He also sees that the baseline is wide open and Rudy Gobert is on the bench. So instead of waiting for the Magic to run a play, he blows by Clarkson for an easy lay-in.

Let’s take a look at another example.

After Hampton catches a pass from Cole Anthony, he bursts from the wing and heads towards the paint. He is faced with Bobby Portis and Bryn Forbes in the paint and a trailing Jordan Nwora.

Using his athleticism, he feigns a lay-up attempt and draw Bobby Portis into the air before dropping the ball off to Mohamed Bamba for an easy flush.

These are just a few of the plays and ways Hampton has shown he can contribute. He can be crafty around the basket as a passer and finisher and a speedy player off the dribble, able to get into the paint.

Like with all rookies, it is still coming in flashes rather than consistently. And Hampton is starting further back than most.

In order for Hampton to succeed he will need to refine his shooting form, eliminate his wild turnover-prone drives to the rim and bulk up to deny bigger guards.

Pair that with his ability to read the defense in the half-court, he may develop into a decent enough playmaker to pair alongside Markelle Fultz.

Like any other young guard, he will stumble, fall and hit the rookie wall. But the flashes in the pan and Hampton’s willingness to play for the team should be enticing enough to stick around and see what he can become.