R.J. Hampton filling in his skills and feeling more comfortable, confident

R.J. Hampton has been hungry for experience and has provided a big boost to the Orlando Magic as he develops. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
R.J. Hampton has been hungry for experience and has provided a big boost to the Orlando Magic as he develops. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports /

R.J. Hampton’s play may have gone under the radar during the last two years.

The second-year guard got lost in the shuffle after getting drafted by the Denver Nuggets. They simply did not have the time to develop him or give him much playing time. He averaged only 9.3 minutes per game in 25 games before he got traded to the Orlando Magic.

That gave him the most precious thing for a young player: opportunity.

Still, even in the mix of young players the Magic were beginning to collect, Hampton was easy to go into the background. He was still a developing player with a raw skill set that needed plenty of finetuning.

Everything with young players is a rough cut and Hampton had a lot more rough edges. He has blazing speed and athleticism. But directing that into something consistent and productive, that is still the trick. There were a lot of skills to fill in.

There are signs of his improvement. His 3-point shooting is dramatically better — up to 38.9-percent from 31.0-percent all of last year. He is in more control of his game. But his speed sometimes gets the best of him, leading to wild finishes or turnovers off drives.

R.J. Hampton is starting to fine-tune his skills. As he looks more comfortable, he will gain more confidence to perform and deliver for the Orlando Magic.

Against the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday, he put together a valiant performance. Perhaps his most under control and impactful play as a playmaker.

The second-year guard came off the bench and played within his strengths and scored 15 points and dished out five assists in 32 minutes with only one turnover.

After returning from health and safety protocols two weeks ago, Hampton is still getting his feet back under him. But he seems to have returned with a better pace to his game and a better understanding of how to get his teammates involved.

"“I felt comfortable,” Hampton said after Thursday’s game. “I feel like it’s second nature to have the ball in my hands. Hats off to coach for trusting me and my teammates for making me look good tonight.”"

Hampton, who came into the league as a point guard, is beginning to play more and more off the ball with Orlando. According to Basketball-Reference, Hampton has played only 26-percent of his minutes this season at point guard entering Thursday’s game. The Magic were seemingly hesitant to use him as the point guard — opting even to start 10-day contract signing Tim Frazier at the lead guard spot.

But with a slue of injuries and a COVID-19 outbreak, the Magic are thin at point guard. And they are relying more on Hampton to be a playmaker, testing his growth and the control of his own pace.

Against the Bucks, Hampton played under control.

He blew past his defender more than a few times. But instead of forcing a shot on the drive, he was able to make the right read and find his open teammates.

He recorded five assists in the game, his sixth game with five or more assists this season. And there were plenty of potential assists in Thursday’s game where he made great reads to open players who just missed the shot.

Hampton may not be a natural point guard. But with his passing and his ability to get to the basket, he is a natural playmaker in many ways. That is an area of his game that continues to grow. And he has shown plenty of flashes as the game continues to slow down.

Hampton also has not been put in with the best lineups. The team’s bench groups have struggled and do not always have the best players for him to pair with and create for. It has left him at times trying to do too much, a constant reminder he has given himself and the team that they cannot go for the home run play every time.

With so many new players filling the roster, Hampton has been pushed into more of leadership role. Even as he makes his way back.

"“R.J. is such a tweener, as far as a point guard, a slasher, a 2 and a 3, that he’s been able to, when at times where I didn’t know things, he was able to step in and help right away,” said Tim Frazier, who started against the Bucks at point guard. “We’re down point guards, and he was able to step in and run the point.”"

Hampton is trying to be a vocal leader and lead by example for all those new players while still hunting for his opportunity to shine. He has helped direct new players like Frazier where to go.

That has seemingly also focused Hampton a bit more. He is making better plays and having a more positive impact.

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Since, rookie guard Jalen Suggs is out with a thumb injury and Cole Anthony is in-and-out of the lineup with an ankle sprain, there is more opportunity for Hampton to showcase all of his skills.

On Sunday, in his first game back from COVID-19 protocols, he scored 14 points and recorded five assists against the Miami Heat, despite being winded. In Tuesday’s loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, he scored nine points on 4-for-11 shooting and dished out four assists.

He was still getting his feet back under him. But Hampton seems to be getting better every game still.

There is still a lot of untapped potential with Hampton. But when he plays 30-plus minutes this season, he has scored in double-digits every time.

Hampton is still in search for more consistent, extended playing time. But in this injury-plagued season, he has the perfect chance to solidify his place in the NBA. And he seems to have embraced an underdog mentality.

"“We just want to be respected by everybody in this league,” Hampton said. “The record speaks for itself, but we’re a team that’s going to out there and fight every night. Just not being, a laughing stock, as I would say. Teams know when they come into Orlando Magic, that no matter who’s on the floor, it’s going to be a hard game.”"

Hampton has helped on that front. Even as he puts all the pieces together that made him such a highly coveted recruit and draft prospect.

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His skills are starting to fill in a whole lot more. As he embraces his role and gets more experience, Hampton is very likely going to be a difference-maker for this young Magic team.