For Orlando Magic guard R.J. Hampton, volunteering to play in the Las Vegas summer league was a simple decision.
To coach Jamahl Mosley, Hampton stepping forward was an embodiment of the kind of team he’s looking to build.
“That’s what we want [from] all our guys,” Mosley said after Sunday’s pre-summer league practice. “We talk about the competitive edge we want to continue to have and the joy for the game. The ability for R.J. to not play major minutes throughout the year but say I want to play summer league says a lot about his willingness to compete.”
Players of Hampton’s experience level — he’s entering his third season in the NBA — can’t be required to play in summer league like most first- or second-year players.
So when it was revealed Hampton was on the Magic’s summer league team, it was evident he asked to play.
Hampton made that clear on social media and when speaking with reporters over the weekend.
“Just looking to get to know the guys on our summer league team — know Paolo [Banchero], know Caleb [Houstan],” Hampton said referring to the Magic’s recent draft picks. “There’s a lot of summer to play basketball. Why not play with the Magic organization in summer league and get better?”
Hampton, the No. 24 pick in the 2020 draft, played in summer league with the Magic last year.
The 2020 summer league ahead of Hampton’s rookie season with the Denver Nuggets was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Magic will kick off summer league against the Houston Rockets at 10 p.m. on Thursday in the first of their five games. It’s unlikely Hampton plays in every game.
“I only got to play one summer league,” Hampton said. “It’s a great opportunity for me to get run and get extra reps.”
Although he appeared in 115 games across his first two seasons, it’s clear Hampton would benefit from playing summer league.
Playing alongside Cole Anthony, Jalen Suggs and Markelle Fultz for significant parts of the season, Hampton wasn’t the Magic’s primary ball handler as frequently compared to the end of the 2020-21 season.
That meant fewer opportunities to run the offense in a traditional sense — being the ballhandler in pick-and-rolls — and more usage in spot-up, off-ball or secondary ball handler situations.
At summer league, Hampton will be tasked with more ball handling duties and have more responsibilities as a creator.
With his size (6-foot-6), speed and athleticism, getting into the paint or creating advantages haven’t been an issue for Hampton. Taking advantage of them, whether it’s finishing at the rim or the timing of his passes, has been.
Hampton mentioned his “on-ball” game as something he was looking to showcase.
“Making decisions, getting everybody better and just keep up my defensive intensity — that’s something I look forward to bringing to this team,” he said. “Just competing against other guys in summer league and even guys here will be great for me.”
This offseason and the 2022-23 season will be crucial for Hampton.
He’s entering the third year of his rookie scale contract, with a $4.22 million team option for the 2023-24 season.
Hampton’s summer-league performances likely won’t have a significant impact on his long-term future, but they could be important steps for his development.