R.J. Hampton Thrived in Transition After Joining Orlando Magic

by Josh Cohen

ORLANDO - Very few rookies finished the 2020-21 season on a higher note than R.J. Hampton, the NBA’s Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for May. Over his final eight games of the year, he averaged 16.0 points, 7.1 rebounds and 5.6 assists, all top six marks among rookies during that stretch.

Following the trade to the Orlando Magic from the Denver Nuggets on March 25, the 6-foot-5, 185-pound combo guard showcased his wide range of skills – some refined, others not quite. But importantly, the combination of his raw talent, his love of the sport, his dedication to his craft and the rapid development he showed in little time after joining the team has given the Magic’s management tremendous optimism about his career trajectory.

“He got better. I think he’s going to continue to get better. He’s a worker. He’s very talented,” Magic President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman said of the 20-year-old. “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.”

From his shot creating, to his playmaking, to his long-range shooting, nearly every part of his game improved by the time the season wrapped up. But where he excelled the most, by far, was in transition, which isn’t a huge surprise factoring in the physical tools he possesses. He’s fast, flashy, shifty and creative – all key ingredients to flourishing when the game speeds up.

After the trade, 3.4 of the 11.2 points he averaged came in transition. But most impressive was how efficient he was when he went full throttle in the open court. Hampton shot 63.8 percent in transition, best on the Magic in 2020-21.

Of all NBA players who appeared in at least 25 games and averaged at least three transition points per game, only Zion Williamson, LeBron James, Mikal Bridges, Domantas Sabonis and Rui Hachimura shot higher percentages in transition than the Magic’s youngster.

Obviously far away from being a finished product, Hampton has the potential to be an excellent two-way player. If he makes the kind of progress many think he will on defense, specifically by forcing turnovers with his length and instincts, that will increase the opportunities he gets to run out and do damage in transition.

Having a full and normal offseason, which was not the case last year because of all the restrictions due to the pandemic, will be a boost for him and the rest of the team’s young core considering they are still getting familiar with one another.

“I think it will be very useful,” Hampton said. “I feel like I’m a leader on this team and I want to win. To win games, we all have to come together as a collective unit. You will see a lot of growth with a lot of the young guys that we have, including myself. It will be good for us to have a full offseason and take it to the next level when the season comes around next year.”

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