There’s no doubt that the Orlando Magic are going to be better next season. Say what you want about the confusing fashion in which they drafted Paolo Banchero first overall, but he already looks like he could be that guy. With the way he carries himself, and the effortless ability to score while being encased in a league-ready body, Banchero is the difference-maker in Orlando.
Because of that, every other young player on the roster should quickly fall in line behind him. Speaking of their young players, Franz Wagner looks tailor-made to be the second-best player of this group, while Jalen Suggs can only get better. Markelle Fultz is practically a veteran at this point, while Cole Anthony is the spark plug who has come to personify the roster.
Can R.J. Hampton be the x-factor for the Orlando Magic both this year and beyond?
Before discussing this coming season, we need to address the “and beyond” part of the above question. With the way the Orlando Magic are moving through their rebuild right now, there are sure to be players who get moved in the future in order for others to get valuable minutes and to improve the roster in other areas.
At the moment, R.J. Hampton looks to be a player who could find himself on the outside looking in. As excellently outlined here, Hampton did not have a good Summer League showing at all. This is a shame because by making himself available to play when he didn’t have to, Hampton showed the kind of attitude that coaches love to see.
Instead, it backfired on him. At no point did he look like a professional entering his third season in the NBA despite going up against guys who were mostly trying to play their way into the league. Then again, Hampton is still somehow only 20 years old. For context, Suggs, who had a difficult rookie season himself and is battling Hampton for minutes, is already 21.
If we are going to give Suggs the benefit of the doubt, then why not Hampton? The 7.6 points and 2.5 assists he averaged in 64 games (14 starts) last season was the definition of pedestrian, and it often felt like he couldn’t get out of his own way. It was like there was a pecking order in his mind as to who should be getting touches and taking over, and he was not at the top of that list.
That being said, there’s a growing belief running through this Orlando Magic squad that they can make the playoffs this season, and Hampton has been vocal about that as well. The addition of Banchero, to go with the stellar rookie campaign of Wagner, means that this roster is going to be more competitive.
Hampton can absolutely play a part in that, and second-year head coach Jamahl Mosley has done a great job of instilling trust and belief in all of his players. That trust could lead to Hampton becoming the team’s x-factor if given the opportunity.
After all, he looks like an ideal sixth man. Hampton projects to be somebody who can come off the bench and score a bunch of points. That would be great, especially if backing up Suggs, but Anthony creates a roadblock for Hampton here.
Not only is he currently better than Hampton, but his aforementioned personality and style of play mean that he is better suited to being the sixth man as well. Additionally, he’s started 99 of the 112 career games he’s played, but that was because Suggs and Fultz have both missed a lot of time.
There’s no way around it—Anthony is the better player and fits more cohesively than Hampton right now. That could absolutely change, but Hampton beating out Anthony is his most realistic chance of becoming an x-factor that opponents can’t cover properly because of Banchero, Wagner, and whoever else can step up.
If that doesn’t happen then a trade may one day be in the cards (although the same applies to Anthony, given that he has higher value), but that is a conversation for another day. If Hampton can get out of his own way and take some minutes off his teammates in the process, then he could absolutely be the x-factor for an upstart group next season.