2022 Orlando Magic Player Evaluations: R.J. Hampton still trying to carve out his role

R.J. Hampton helped lead the Orlando Magic on a fourth-quarter charge that showed this team's will and spirit. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
R.J. Hampton helped lead the Orlando Magic on a fourth-quarter charge that showed this team's will and spirit. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports /

When R.J. Hampton arrived in Orlando as part of the trade to send Aaron Gordon to the Denver Nuggets, the Orlando Magic did not really know what they were getting.

The young guard had shown glimpses of his electric speed in the open court and high-level athleticism which had seen him selected in the first round of the 2020 NBA Draft, but very limited game time on a winning Nuggets team following an underwhelming season for the New Zealand Breakers of the NBL meant there was plenty of uncertainty surrounding Hampton.

And more than a year on from the trade which sent the 21-year-old down to Florida, that uncertainty around Hampton still exists.

R.J. Hampton’s second season showed some of the young guard’s limitations as the Orlando Magic tried to focus him on a specific role as inconsistency still defined the young player.

Of course, we know a bit more about the young guard having seen plenty of him this season. Perhaps it became clearer how the Magic want to use him and where Hampton’s areas for improvement still lie. But Hampton remains one of the biggest mysteries among the Magic’s young players.

Hampton played in 64 of the Magic’s games this season while averaging 21.9 minutes per game — mostly coming off the bench with a few starts on a handful of occasions when there were injuries. A 15-game spell out with an MCL and bone bruise injury suffered against the Philadelphia 76ers in January disrupted his season but he was able to become a regular in the Magic’s rotation.

He averaged 7.6 points per game and 2.5 assists per game. His shooting percentages jumped to 35.0-percent from beyond the arc even though he struggled some overall at 38.3-percent.

One of the biggest plus points for Hampton this season was the improvement in his jump shot.

Hampton did not come into the league as someone who was considered a reliable three-point shooter, but he has made some significant strides forward this season.

His three-point shot might have tailed off a bit toward the end of the season, causing his percentage to dip. But for much of the season, Hampton was one of the team’s most reliable shooters from beyond the arc.

Hampton shot a respectable 35-percent from three-point range this season, hampered by a disappointing April where he made just 26.3 percent of his attempts. He shot 14 of 36 from the corners this season and 34.5-percent on above-the-break 3-pointers.

Somewhere the former five-star high school recruit was able to stand out on the roster was in his confidence in knocking down open threes — something that continues to hold this team back.

Hampton shot a decent 37.6-percent on wide-open three-point attempts (when the nearest defender is more than six feet away) this season.

The Magic need more guys who can hit open three-pointers at a good clip, and while Hampton’s numbers do not exactly blow anyone away, they are considerably better than some of his teammates.

The improvements he has made already in his young career also suggest there is plenty more to come from Hampton when it comes to his shooting from deep, a potentially valuable tool as the Magic try to rebuild into a team that can challenge for a title.

The bigger focus for Hampton was on turning him into this 3-and-D player. Orlando seemingly went out of its way to avoid playing him at point guard all year long — he still logged 20-percent of his minutes there according to Basketball-Reference.

But any time coach Jamahl Mosley spoke about R.J. Hampton to the press, he always started with his defensive improvement.

A player with Hampton’s physical gifts, athleticism and size has all the tools to be a gifted defender — and there have been signs that could be the case this season. Hampton is a pesky on-ball defender, showing he can use his speed to get in passing lanes and grab steals and deflections.

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He averaged 1.2 steals per 75 possessions, placing him in the 81st percentile in the league. He also added 2.1 deflections per 75 possessions, about the league average.

At this point, every measure and number suggests Hampton is an average defensive player. But the team sees a ton of potential that will come with experience and discipline.

There are times when Hampton is too keen and his enthusiasm to grab the ball exposes the defense. There are also still occasions when he loses concentration. But Hampton has shown there is a capable defender in there — something that should act as a foundation moving forward.

Shooting and defense are two core skills in the NBA which many players have built their careers. But Hampton is young enough that the Magic are not ready to box him into a role yet.

The fact he was so highly regarded coming out of high school means there is still a slight hope he could be more than just a rotation guy.

But Hampton is yet to convince when given more opportunities.

While largely playing in an off-ball role this season as a second guard, the Magic are still trying to see what he can do with the ball in his hands and have given him some minutes running the point.

There is nothing wrong with Mosley giving young players the opportunity to develop while the team is this young, but there has been little to suggest so far that Hampton is someone who can become one of the team’s leading ball handlers in the future.

Hampton’s spectacular speed is a gift but also comes with issues. He often looks like he is playing faster than he is capable of processing, causing him to rush things and make questionable decisions while also committing easy turnovers.

Getting to the rim is not a problem but finishing near the basket, whether it be layups, floaters or jumpers, has been.

According to NBA.com, Hampton made just 36.5-percent of his shots attempted in the paint this season, excluding the restricted area. In the restricted area, the figure was still less than 50-percent at 47.5-percent.

He can sometimes run himself into difficult positions, take shots in heavy traffic and struggles to finish through contact. Hampton has not yet shown the level of offensive creativity and quick thinking needed to handle the ball regularly in the NBA and lacks a reliable floater — making just 15.2-percent of shots classified as driving floating jump shots by NBA.com.

And when he gets to the line, a free-throw percentage of 64.1-percent tells the whole story.

Final Grade: C+

There is still so much for Hampton to work on if he wants his future to lie at the point guard position, even if there have been signs of things starting to slow down for him. Ultimately, though, he just has not shown an ability to run an offense to the level of Cole Anthony or Markelle Fultz.

But this season, Hampton has demonstrated where he can contribute to the Magic moving forward. His improvement as a shooter, flashes of defensive potential and speed in the open court are abilities that can be extremely valuable to this Magic team as it grows.

Using him solely as a wing and off-ball player, rather than a ball-handling guard, could allow him to thrive in a more limited yet very important role. Every team needs guys who can defend the perimeter and knock down open shots and Hampton has offered plenty of promise at doing both, while his speed on fastbreaks will always be a valuable weapon.

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It might mean a re-think of the type of player he wants to be, but could well provide him with the best opportunity to be a successful player in the NBA while carving out a clear role for the Orlando Magic – something he is still yet to do.