D.J. Augustin was on the NBA scrap heap just a couple of weeks ago.
Almost unused in Toronto, Augustin was deemed expendable when Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri engineered a four-for-three swap that sent Rudy Gay and his gigantic contract to the Sacramento Kings with Quincy Acy and Aaron Gray in exchange for Greivis Vasquez, John Salmons, Patrick Patterson and Chuck Hayes.
The problem was that the Raptors had a full 15-man roster at the time of the trade and shipping out three guys and getting four in return created a math problem. Augustin was the solution to that problem. He became the minus-one and was waived the day the trade became official.
After playing just 82 minutes in the 10 games he had gotten into and not having a lot of success when he did play (7-for-24 shooting overall and 1-for-11 from 3-point range, an ugly 29.2 percent/9.1 percent combo), it looked like it might be a long, lonely winter for Charlotte’s ninth-overall pick in the 2008 draft (Michael Jordan and talent evaluation, the gift that keeps on giving).
No offense to Augustin, but if you’re having trouble finding minutes in Toronto, your career might be dangerously close to rock bottom.
Enter the Chicago Bulls.
The Bulls lost Derrick Rose to a meniscus tear just 11 games into the season and then Kirk Hinrich, once again thrust into the role of starting point guard in Chicago, strained his back and went on the shelf.
That left the point guard spot in the shaky hands of second-year man Marquis Teague.
His two starts didn’t go well, which is sort of an insult to the entire “didn’t go well” community. Teague scored seven points to go with three assists and two turnovers on 3-for-6 shooting in a 22-point loss to the Raptors, at home.
Two nights later, against the woeful Orlando Magic, Teague started again, played 11 minutes, missed three shots and was found in a dumpster behind the United Center with a note from coach Tom Thibodeau attached to his jersey which read, “Don’t bring this back inside.” (OK, I made the last part up).
Enter D.J. Augustin.
Augustin had been signed, out of desperation as much as any perceived fit with the Bulls beyond, “Dude can dribble, pass and generally remain upright for extended periods of time—sign HIM!”
Augustin has started Chicago’s last three games, has played 31 minutes or more in the last four and recorded his first double-double since April 10, 2012, Saturday night when the Bulls routed Cleveland, finishing with 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting, including 4-of-6 from deep, and dishing out 10 assists. He had five rebounds and two assists, for good measure.
Has Augustin been the second coming of a healthy Derrick Rose? Far from it. He’s had five turnovers in each of his last two start and he’s only shooting 37.7 percent overall since coming to Chicago.
Still, though, he’s averaging 10 points and 6.5 assists per game in six games, getting 30.3 minutes a night. Yes, Virginia, D.J. Augustin has played 100 more minutes in six games for the Bulls than he did in six weeks in Toronto.
Hinrich is questionable for the Christmas Day matchup with the Brooklyn Nets, meaning Augustin could see his playing time reduced. But with Jimmy Butler still bothered by a sore ankle and turf toe, Marquis Teague still being Marquis Teague—and shooting 24.6 percent from the floor—and rookie Tony Snell able to be counted on for a solid game about every six or seven nights, Thibodeau has hinted at the idea of teaming Hinrich and Augustin in the same backcourt.
Hinrich is known as a dogged defender, but at 6’3” and with a balky back, he might not be ready for the task of defending some of the more athletic (and large) 2 guards around the NBA.
Augustin, meanwhile, is not an elite defender. He’s not even close to an elite defender. In fact, it’s a legitimate stretch to refer to him as anything more than “guy who occasionally tries to impede progress of other guy about to score again.”
He has a career defensive rating of 110. The 104 D-rating he’s put up in his six games with the Bulls matches his career-best he had with the Pacers last season. At 6’ and 180 pounds, Augustin is small and small guys can have problems on the defensive end.
But since signing on Dec. 13, Augustin hasn’t been a train wreck. He’s been decent, if not spectacular. Given where the Bulls are at in the Eastern Conference hierarchy right now—10-16, a half-game behind eighth-place Boston—that’s a plus.