Everyone around the league understands its importance and why it exists. Everyone who has been around the league long enough certainly knows its limitations and why you do not read too much into what is going on on the court. Everyone is working on something.
Summer League tells everyone who cannot play more than who can play — Franz Wagner’s difficult 8.0 points per game and 15.4-percent shooting from deep in last year’s Summer League. That should tell you how uncertain Summer League results are.
It is notable then who is not showing up for Summer League.
Wagner, along with many of the players who dotted the All-Rookie teams last year, will not play for the Magic in Vegas later this week. The thinking is that these players have proven their place in the NBA. They do not need Summer League.
Most players in their second or third years are heading to Summer League for different reasons.
Rookies like Paolo Banchero are arriving to Vegas to dip their toes in the water and receive NBA coaching for the first time. It would not be surprising for the team to see what they need from a player like him quickly and then wrap him in bubble wrap for the rest of the trip.
So then, what is R.J. Hampton doing at Summer League? Why is a third-year player making the rare choice to play Summer League? What does he have to gain?
A lot apparently — both things central to the Magic’s culture and attitude and central to Hampton’s development.
R.J. Hampton is one of the few third-year players getting set to play in Summer League. He is doing so because he wants to play and improve and prove a lot to the Orlando Magic.
Hampton made it pretty clear he volunteered to join the Magic’s Summer League roster. He has a lot to prove, for sure. But he just wants to play most of all. And doing it in an organized setting is where he felt he could take his greatest step forward.
"“Just looking to get to know the guys on our Summer League team — know Paolo [Banchero], know Caleb [Houstan],” Hampton elaborated on why he joined the Magic’s Summer League team after practice Sunday. “And honestly just compete. There is a lot of summer to play basketball and why not play with the Magic organization in Summer Leauge and get better? I only got to play one Summer League. I just turned 21 a couple of months ago. This is a great opportunity for me to get run and get some reps.”"
The organized reps are certainly a positive for a player like Hampton.
Hampton was in and out of the rotation throughout last season, ending up averaging 21.9 minutes per game in 64 appearances. Injuries certainly pushed him into more playing time where he showed plenty of promise and plenty of struggle.
Hampton averaged 7.6 points per game and 2.5 assists per game, shooting 38.3-percent from the floor and 35.0-percent from three.
For every good thing that Hampton was able to do, there was something else to drag him down. Hampton showed incredible promise, but also incredible inconsistency.
He shot 39.8-percent on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers, showing tremendous growth as an outside shooter. At the very least this is a skill the Magic must develop and grow in their young guard, especially with how much he improved on that over his rookie year.
But he was equally as bad as a pull-up shooter, making only 20.8-percent of his pull-up 3-pointers.
He was strong at getting to the rim, rating with 11.1 adjusted drives per 75 possessions according to Basketball-Index and 45.6-percent drive pass-out rate. But he also recorded few assists off those drives (7.9-percent, just above the league median), and 48.2-percent adjusted field goal percentage at the rim, placing him in the 17th percentile.
Defensively, he rates as a solid chaser and someone who can get to loose balls and create steals. But he still does not rate as a great individual defender by most available metrics.
By almost every catch-all metric, Hampton rated as one of the worst players in the league — second percentile in LEBRON, 21st percentile in RAPTOR and 20th percentile in Box Plus-Minus.
Some of that is certainly because he was caught in some of the Magic’s worst lineups. But some of that is because Hampton had his struggles.
Potential and inconsistency defined his season. Even if there is still a lot to build on.
And that is why Hampton has so much to prove. More than anyone on the roster, Hampton has a lot on the line this season. And playing Summer League is Hampton betting on himself.
He has a lot he wants to improve upon and work on. And Hampton is going into this Summer League looking to accomplish some specific things.
"“Probably I’d say my on-ball game,” Hampton said after practice Sunday. “Playing the point guard position, making decisions and getting everybody better. And also just keep up my defensive intensity. That is something I look forward to keep bringing to this team. Competing against other guys in Summer League and even guys here will be great for me.”"
That is probably the biggest thing. The Magic at times went out of their way to make sure Hampton was only a secondary ball handler. According to Basketball-Reference, Hampton played only 20 percent of his minutes at point guard.
That is not likely where his future will be. But the team wants him to be able to handle the ball and be able to attack off the dribble.
The lesson from his second season was a desire to slow down and learn how to control his speed rather than letting his speed control him.
That is the thing everyone will be watching as Hampton takes the court in Summer League. His play will not be about his stats but rather the control in which he plays.
The Magic are happy to have a veteran player to help the young guys on the roster. Hampton already has pulled the rookies aside to give them guidance. That is very valuable.
And Orlando is happy to have someone eager to compete and gain something in this Summer League.
"“That’s what we want all our guys,” coach Jamahl Mosley said after practice Sunday. “We talk about the competitive edge that we want to continue to have and the joy for the game. the ability for R.J. to not play major minutes throughout the year and then come and say he wants to play Summer League says a lot about his willingness and want to compete. He loves to play basketball. We continue to ask our guys to want to do and be able to do.”"
Hampton will have a lot to show and a lot to do during this Summer League. It is not just about his just showing up and playing. He has a lot to prove.
He has to show control and poise. He has to look like the veteran on the team. Doing that will put him in a position to make waves when the season begins.
That is what he has to begin building during this Summer League experiment. He certainly needs it and is taking the opportunity.