Film Room: R.J. Hampton’s Rookie Season Strengths

by Josh Cohen

ORLANDO - One of the Orlando Magic’s best players over the final month of the season was R.J. Hampton, who in May averaged 16.0 points, 7.1 rebounds and 5.6 assists and was named the Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month.

Going from the Denver Nuggets, a team in win-now mode, to Orlando enabled him to get more playing time and showcase his wide range of skills on a rebuilding Magic squad.

It was a surprise to many when the 6-foot-4 combo guard fell to the Nuggets at pick No. 24 in the 2020 NBA Draft. During his senior year of high school, several online recruiting databases, including ESPN’s, listed him as a top five prospect. His play with the New Zealand Breakers of the NBL, however, was just so-so, which probably shrunk his draft stock a bit.

Only several months have passed since the 2020 draft, but already a lot has changed for Hampton. Not only is he on a different team than the one who drafted him, the 20-year-old has made many teams start wondering if they made a big mistake not taking him when they had the chance.

Former Magic forward Mike Miller, who trained Hampton last offseason, has said multiple times that he believes Hampton will eventually become an NBA All-Star.

Just as it will be for all of the Magic’s other young players, including fellow 2020 draft pick Cole Anthony, this summer is going to be an important time for Hampton to sharpen his skills and turn some of his key weaknesses into strengths. Magic President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman, who says the team specifically targeted Hampton when they were looking around the league at potential trade options involving their veterans near the deadline, is confident he has what it takes to do those things.

“He got better. I think he’s going to continue to get better. He’s a worker. He’s very talented,” Weltman said. “I just think guys need reps. They need to know how they fit in. They need coaches and people around them to message them, (saying) ‘like here’s how your role will help us win.’ And the most important thing is that those guys are receptive to hearing that. If they have the talent, if they have the worth ethic, are receptive to hearing that, generally good things are going to happen from there.”

Here’s a deeper breakdown of Hampton and the things he excelled at this season after joining the Magic.

BURST AND BODY CONTROL

Nearly 23 percent of Hampton’s shot attempts came in transition, the highest on the Magic. He made 64 percent of them. Very few players were as efficient as the Magic’s youngster in transition.

Not only is he a blur in the open floor, he does a great job evading shot blockers when he arrives at the basket. The clips below are just two of many examples that show how fast he is when he flies down the court and how acrobatic he is when he attacks the hoop.

PICK-AND-ROLL SCORING

It’s one thing to be lightning quick, which Hampton obviously is. It’s another thing to be able to change speeds at the drop of a hat. Crafty is one way to describe it, but the Dallas native is really good at getting into the teeth of the defense without relying on speed alone.

He has all the dribble moves in his arsenal – a pro hop, hesitation, in and out, etc. – and he uses them to elude defenders. Then, many times, he will contort his body to get clean shots off.

He has a very nice-looking pull-back mid-range jumper in addition to a fairly reliable floater, both illustrated below.

PICK-AND-ROLL PASSING

Hampton did a solid job hitting rollers and poppers out of pick-and-roll. Several times, because of how much of a threat he is to score in the paint, opponents collapsed on him and he made the right reads, either dropping a pass off to a teammate underneath or whipping a kickout pass to an open shooter on the perimeter.

Twice after getting traded to Orlando he racked up nine or more assists, including in his final game of the season when he finished one assist shy of a triple-double against the Philadelphia 76ers with 12 points, 11 rebounds and nine dimes. He had 10 assists in a game against the Detroit Pistons a couple weeks earlier.

REBOUNDING

Just like Anthony, Hampton is a very good rebounder at his position. Don’t be surprised if he flirts with triple-doubles once he reaches his prime years. He’s very quick to the ball and he’s not afraid to fly into the paint and chase down loose balls.

AREAS TO IMPROVE

Although mentioned above as a strength, learning to be more patient when he explodes inside is going to be key for him. Sometimes it seemed he was too intent on getting all the way to the basket and it caused him to be a little sloppy on his drives.

His 3-point shooting, widely considered his No. 1 weakness before the draft, got much better towards the end of the season. Over his last eight games, he shot 43.5 percent from beyond the arc.

Defensively, he has great potential. It’s just going to come down to him gaining more experience and learning to use his lateral quickness and length to his advantage. Putting on some more muscle to his frame will be necessary as well.

The Magic have gone several straight years ranking near the bottom in free throw attempts. Could Hampton, with how aggressive and explosive he is, help Orlando increase its trips to the stripe? Learning to absorb and initiate contact will help him blossom into a more potent scorer.

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