R.J. Hampton fell short of Orlando Magic’s goals in Summer League

R.J. Hampton struggled in his first two Summer League games as he was unable to take the next step forward. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
R.J. Hampton struggled in his first two Summer League games as he was unable to take the next step forward. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports /

R.J. Hampton wanted the challenge of playing Summer League.

He volunteered to play in the organized setting of Summer League. He knew his best opportunity to get better was to get reps and play with a team and with structure.

Learning how to play within a structure was the biggest thing Hampton needed to work on. He needed to be able to run a team and play within himself.

Doing so at the Summer League level should have been an opportunity for him to show his poise and control. He is the rare third-year player to take the leap in Summer League. The more experienced players tend to be the ones who dominate. They just know how to play at a higher level. They know what the NBA game is like.

Hampton arrived at Summer League with that clear goal. He arrived with the purpose of becoming a more efficient player and playing with more control and poise. This was the environment to show some growth in all areas.

He was not nearly as bad as some fans would paint him out to be. But it certainly was not a good trip to Las Vegas for Hampton. It was certainly not enough on its own to decide his fate before training camp.

R.J. Hampton arrived in Las Vegas hoping to show better poise and control. But the Orlando Magic guard struggled to find his footing and finished in Las Vegas with more questions.

Whatever Hampton was trying to show or get out of Summer League, he certainly did not reach that level in his two Summer League appearances. It leaves a lot of questions for Hampton to answer.

His numbers certainly were not impressive.

In his two games, he averaged 12.0 points per game while shooting 40.0-percent from the floor and 0 for 4 from beyond the arc. He averaged 2.0 assists per game against 3.0 turnovers per game.

No matter how you try to cut it, Hampton did not look like an experienced player on the floor. Oftentimes he looked like a player who was trying to prove himself and do too much. He did not seem like a player who was in command of his game or was beyond playing in Summer League.

His first few possessions in the game against the Houston Rockets were the opposite of what the team needed to see. He rushed to the basket and seemed to be playing too quickly. He missed shots at the rim and seemed to be overdoing it.

This was always at the heart of the problem for Hampton.

Hampton is incredibly gifted as an athlete. He can play fast and speed past anyone in transition. What he has not been able to do is play under control. He often lets his speed control him.

And his ability to make decisions while going at full speed has been suspect. That has been the concern in the regular season.

His play in Summer League did not inspire that much had changed.

In moments when he was put under pressure, he struggled to stay under control. His struggles especially late in the win against the Sacramento Kings were especially clear.

With the Kings trying to rush back into the game, they pressed and sped Hampton up. They denied the ball to Paolo Banchero. This should have been where Hampton rose to the occasion and helped bring stability.

Instead, he made several key mistakes.

Despite the officials botching the decision to count the eight-second violation (Caleb Houstan had established possession in the front court and had the ball knocked into the backcourt where he retrieved it and eventually called timeout), he did not get the ball to Banchero to beat an eight-second violation for a critical turnover. On another key possession following a Kings basket, he turned the ball over almost immediately trying to make a quick pass back to Devin Cannady. That was intercepted leading to a quick four points that cut the Magic’s eight-point lead in half.

These are individual plays from a chaotic game. They should not be taken as total gospel. But they were of a kind for Hampton.

In a big moment, Hampton did not look like the veteran player on the floor. He was certainly not the picture of calm.

When teams sped up Hampton and forced him to make quick decisions, he struggled to make the right decision. He struggled to find that center.

That is not to say it was all bad. There were moments when Hampton played with the poise and control he needed to show.

He had plays where he attacked off the pass and drove through the lane and patiently found the right pass and the right play. Contradictorily, the area where Hampton was perhaps his weakest became one of his biggest strengths. He was patient and able to find his place and pace in the halfcourt.

Hampton still could take over space and hit the turbo to get to the rim. He had a big dunk and a few nice lay-ins on drives. He made good reads to kick out to the perimeter.

It were these moments that were encouraging for Hampton.

To some degree, the Magic put him in a position designed to make him uncomfortable. That was ultimately what he was looking for too. He wanted to be on the ball more and work on this kind of decision-making.

If that was the goal, Hampton showed flashes he can accomplish this step.

But it was hardly consistent. It hardly looked like a player who played an entire season with the Magic and has two years of NBA experience under his belt. Even players who have struggled to crack the rotation have looked better in this Summer League setting.

Perhaps the biggest thing Orlando learned from this Summer League was that Hampton should move permanently off the ball and play as a slasher. He should be working as a spot-up shooter and slasher who can attack in transition.

By the end of his second game, Paolo Banchero was taking a lot more of the initiator and playmaking role. That seemed to be where the Magic were at their best in those first two games.

So in that sense, Hampton did not live up to or achieve the goals he had set out for Summer League.

In the process, especially with the news the team has signed Caleb Houstan to a contract (a reported four-year deal with the first two years guaranteed), Hampton may have lost his place in the team’s future.

At the very least, this Summer League has not helped Hampton advance past fighting for a spot in the rotation or taking minutes only if injuries hit the team.

That is perhaps the biggest missed opportunity. This was a chance for Hampton to show he had taken a sizable step forward. Instead, he looked like a third-year player trying to find his way still. Trying to find what his comfort is in the league.

Figuring that out can be important. Hampton will certainly go into the rest of his offseason knowing clearly what he needs to keep working on.

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But so too is the understanding that there is a lot more work to do. He did not show what he needed to show and left a big question mark for the rest of his offseason.