Jan 22, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Chicago Bulls point guard D.J. Augustin (14) shoots against Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving (2) in the first quarter at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Chicago Bulls: D.J. Augustin, Season Saver?

It was a line of agate type about six weeks ago, one of those lines that seemed about as important in the overall scheme of things in the NBA as the signing of any roster-filler plucked off the league’s waste bin.

Augustin had just been waived by the Toronto Raptors, where the former No. 9 overall pick of the Charlotte Bobcats in 2008 had drifted behind Dwight Buycks and Julyan Stone on Toronto’s depth chart at point guard behind Kyle Lowry. When the Raptors sent out Rudy Gay, Aaron Gray and Quincy Acy to get a package of four players including Greivis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson, John Salmons and Chuck Hayes from Sacramento, it was Augustin who was deemed expendable in order to create the necessary roster spot to accommodate the extra guy coming back from Sactown.

After the Bulls lost Derrick Rose to another knee injury, the point guard position resembled something needing attention from FEMA. In nine games after Rose went down, Kirk Hinrich inherited the starting point guard spot and he was playing at historically awful levels, averaging 8.4 points, 5.7 assists, 3.9 rebounds and 1.8 steals in 37 minutes a game, shooting 28.6 percent from the floor and 25.6 percent from long range.

Not surprisingly, Chicago was 2-7 in that stretch.

The Bulls lost four straight after Augustin arrived, three of which he was pressed into service as a starter as Hinrich sat out with back spasms.

But since Dec. 21, Chicago is 13-6 and Augustin is averaging 15 points, 6.1 assists, 2.4 rebounds and 1.2 steals in 31.8 minutes a game, shooting 45.5 percent from the floor and a matching 45.5 percent from 3-point range on 5.3 attempts per game.

His assist-to-turnover ratio is nearly 3:1 and his assist percentage over that 19-game period is 33.3 percent, with an offensive rating of 118 and a defensive rating of 104 (points per 100 possessions). His true shooting percentage is .610.

The 3-point percentage would rank fifth in the NBA. The assists average would tie for 17th, true shooting would tie for 13th, his assist percentage is 14th (which is where it would rank based on the 19-game sample) and since the trade, even including the rough start, Augustin’s player efficiency rating (PER) is a solid 17.5 (league average is 15, so he’s provided the Bulls with above-average point guard play).

Compare that to Hinrich’s 9.5 PER and the sterling 0.1 put up by Marquis Teague before he was jettisoned to Brooklyn for Tornike Shengelia and, while Augustin might not be Derrick Rose, he’s a lot better than the alternatives had been.

Meanwhile, with Hinrich on the shelf, Mike James—who was brought back on a 10-day contract on Jan. 22 after Teague was traded—has been getting the backup minutes (about 10 per game over the last four games) and is treading water … sort of. He’s 4-for-11 from the floor in those four outings and averaging 2.8 assists per game

The NBA doesn’t hand out an award for comeback player of the year anymore, but if it did, D.J. Augustin would have to be considered a contender for it. He’s helped keep the Bulls afloat after Rose was hurt and Hinrich played like a guy who is 33 going on 53.

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