R.J. Hampton entered the 2023 season with the sense he was on borrowed time with the Orlando Magic. The third-year guard struggled to keep up with the sudden momentum the organization began to build in their quest for the Play-In.
With rookie sensation Paolo Banchero popping right away and Franz Wagner having a fabulous sophomore outing, the goalposts for the Magic seemed to change seemingly overnight. It was not like this to begin the year, with the team starting off a horrible 5-20.
But even that run should have provided Hampton with sufficient writing on the wall to know he was not long for Florida. Despite countless injuries to the roster during that awful spell, Hampton never seized the chance to become more integral to the rotation.
Instead, he bounced down to the G-League and back again on several occasions, and being waived in February was what was best for both the player and the team.
R.J. Hampton struggled to establish himself and consistently add to the Orlando Magic, even when he had ample opportunity. In the end, Hampton proved he was not part of the team’s long-term plans.
Hampton ended up joining the Detroit Pistons, and while he hardly took a leap forward in the 21 games he played there, he seems to have found another lifeline in the league with a rebuilding team that is still a few years from making any significant postseason noise.
Ironically this is where the Magic were supposed to be. But coach Jamahl Mosley now really has something in Paolo Banchero, Franz Wagner, Wendell Carter and Markelle Fultz. With two lottery picks coming their way in the NBA Draft this summer, it was always going to be hard for Hampton to carve out a role for himself with so much competition.
Second-year guard Jalen Suggs began to show real flashes defensively, while Cole Anthony has assumed the role of emotional leader for the group. Hampton does not do any one thing well enough to usurp those guys in the rotation, and he obviously doesn’t come close to Fultz.
This season with the Magic, Hampton averaged 5.7 points per game while shooting 43.9 percent shooting and 34.0 percent from deep in 13.9 minutes per game across 26 games. His numbers did not get much better when he landed with the Pistons. He averaged 7.3 points per game on 42.3 percent shooting and 36.5 percent from deep.
Hampton had chances to prove himself. And he has continued to struggle to contribute consistently.
Being the fourth guard on the roster may have been a viable path for Hampton, for next season at least, had he been a better shooter and generally a better offensive player. Instead, Gary Harris rightly saw himself inserted into the starting lineup with his ability to stretch the court.
This left Hampton as a kind of “jack of all trades, master of none” type who fell between the cracks. He says all of the right things and to his credit his off-the-court attitude was impeccable. He seemed eager to get down to the G-League to play when he could, and poked fun at his own situation from time to time.
But he just is not nearly as good a floor general as Fultz, as locked in defensively as Suggs, capable of getting hot like Harris or in tune with the fanbase like Anthony.
This could have gone differently if the Magic had not shown an ability to stay in the Play-In race for as long as they did. They could have let him play through mistakes more and grow into consistency. Then again, he had that opportunity the past year and a half since arriving in Orlando.
And we all know they are likely to get better next season.
In three seasons with the team after coming over as a rookie in the Aaron Gordon trade that sent him to the Denver Nuggets, it is hard to remember a stretch of games where Hampton looked like he was about to take a leap of any kind.
Instead, he finished his career with the Magic having averaged 8.0 points and 2.3 assists, while his 3-point shooting was never consistent enough to warrant significant minutes. It is clear watching Hampton that offensively he wants to take the ball and make things happen, but he ran out of time to prove he could do that with the Magic.
Net ratings can be unfair catch-alls when judging a player, but Hampton has never come close to being a net positive while on the court anywhere in the league so far. At his worst with the Magic he was a -14.6, although interesting on the defensive end in his final two years with the team, the team held up defensively when he was on the court.
There are several reasons for this, ranging from the fact Hampton was playing garbage time minutes in some instances to the fact he was out there with long defenders who could clog the paint. Perhaps if Hampton showed a willingness to become a lockdown defender first and foremost, his career with the organization could have been different.
Even more surprising, the Magic had the worst offensive rating in the entire league (107.9) in the minutes Hampton was on the court. Not good enough especially for a team that has had many offensive woes and will be prioritizing shooting this offseason.
Hampton had his chance, 116 of them to be exact, and had two full seasons to convince Mosley he belonged in the rotation. He could not achieve this, but there is no doubt he is a likeable individual who is probably on his second to last chance in the league now with the Pistons.
Right now it does not look like the Magic are going to regret giving up on a player who is still only 22 years old, and really it was just a case of player and team outgrowing one another. Hampton needs to be given more time and run to make the mistakes he is going to, and the Magic are moving away from that. This was painfully apparent in 2023 and led to Hampton’s departure.