BROOKLYN—Although he arrived in Chicago before the holiday season officially started, D.J. Augustin’s presence has already been an unexpected present for the Bulls.
The sixth-year veteran, coming off his best game of the season, 18 points and 10 assists in last Saturday’s home win over Cleveland, may or may not retain his starting job with Kirk Hinrich back in the lineup after missing five games due to a back ailment, but the diminutive point guard’s playmaking ability has given the Bulls a much-needed added dimension.
“Just the way he plays and he plays with a lot of poise, and there’s a good pace to him,” Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau explained. “He knows how to read things really well. He’s reading how guys coming off screens are being defended. His ability to pass on time and on target, he has guys in rhythm, which I think is important.”
It’s strange to think that with Augustin’s blend of quickness, passing ability and outside shooting, Toronto would have waived the New Orleans native—the Raptors were forced to trim their roster by one following their trade of Rudy Gay to Sacramento—or that he would even have a hard time finding a consistent role in the league following his All-American college career at the University of Texas and being drafted ninth overall by Charlotte in 2008, the same year Derrick Rose was selected by the Bulls. But after playing a major role for the Bobcats as a backup to Raymond Felton his first two NBA seasons, including the franchise’s lone playoff year, then becoming a starter, he lost ground to Kemba Walker, then went to Indiana last season, where he had a minimal role before moving on to Canada over the summer.
“That’s what the NBA is about. You never know what can happen. You’ve just got to take advantage of the opportunities and I love it here, and I’m just trying to work as hard as I can to help my team win,” Augustin explained. “I know how the NBA is. It’s a business, but I’m the type of person where I try not to get down on myself and keep working hard because, like I said, you never know what can happen. The situation in Toronto, I didn’t get down on myself. I kept working hard and I came here, and I’ve been playing a lot, so I think if I had got down on myself, I wouldn’t have been ready to play.
“The Indiana situation, I had some good games there. At the same time, it was tough. The style of play maybe didn’t fit me a little bit and Coach Vogel had his guys that he went with. They played the majority of minutes and I kind of knew that going in. the Toronto situation, I don’t know what happened there, but I just tried to stay professional to keep myself ready,” the 26-year-old went on to say. “It’s in God’s hands, what happens. But at the same time, all it takes is for you to get on a team that fits your style of play and a team that likes you as a player. That’s all it takes for you to stick around.”
Thus far, it looks like the Bulls and Augustin might be a good fit, to the point where a person with knowledge of the situation told CSNChicago.com that the floor general has impressed the organizations enough that informal discussions about possibly extending his tenure in Chicago beyond this season have already developed, as Hinrich’s contract is up after the campaign. Thibodeau apparently doesn’t need to be sold, as he dismissed Augustin’s up-and-down early professional career as a matter of circumstances.
“I think the big thing is not to look backwards and not to look ahead, but to be right where you are and this is good for him, and this is good for us. We both need each other. The one thing I do like about him is the fact that when you look at his entire career, his first two years were terrific and even last year I thought he had some really good moments in the playoffs,” the coach said. “He’s been a little up and down, and sometimes that’s not uncommon for a young player, but you can see that he has a lot of confidence. I like his skill set, the fact that he can run a pick-and-roll, he can shoot, he can make plays and I like the way that he’s competing defensively. Each game, you can see that he’s making a conscious effort to do the right things and so, that’s important. It’s an important leadership quality also. When you look at your point guard, you’re looking for someone who can unite and inspire your team, and I think he’s doing that with our guys.”
Augustin has inspired so much trust in Thibodeau that he played 46 minutes against the Cavaliers, something he wasn’t necessarily prepared for.
“Yeah, I was cramping in my hamstrings. I was fine. I got through it. They gave me some powder to drink on the sidelines,” Augustin said. “It’s hard. Your body’s not ready for that. The first couple games, I was pretty sore—like really sore—but now I’m starting to get my legs under me and I feel pretty good.”
“You never know what your minutes are going to be like in the NBA. You never know what the coach is going to decide, but you’ve got to be ready for whatever he decides and you’ve got to stay focused,” he continued. “When I was in Toronto, I would stay after and do extra conditioning stuff, just in case something like this happened, so I was preparing myself.
“When players, you’re not playing, you don’t know what your confidence is like. But once you get out there and you start playing—get a rhythm, start making some shots, start making some plays—it can build and my teammates are behind me, picking me up.”
The disappointment of how his Toronto stint went quickly faded as Augustin learned his next destination.
“I didn’t get down on myself when they waived me and maybe a day or two later, my agent called me and told me about Chicago, and I was immediately excited. I didn’t know what my minutes would be like here, but I knew I would get a chance to play, so that made me excited,” he said. “I hated playing against the Bulls because, like I said, it’s a grind-out team. They’re going to play defense every night, they’re going to fight you and be tough, and I hated playing against them. Now, I love being a part of it.
“We’re a team. Every night we go out and fight as a team, and they’ve been embracing me pretty well here. I love it. I love all my teammates, I love Coach Thibodeau and I love it here,” Augustin added. “I’m feeling pretty comfortable. I’m doing extra to get the plays down, and once you know the plays and know the system, everything else comes to you, so I feel pretty comfortable with all the plays now.”
“I’ve always been, since college, a pick-and-roll type of player and Thibs always calls pick-and-roll plays.”
Augustin’s familiarity with the Bulls, just from paying attention as an opponent, has also helped him make an adjustment.
“Just being around the NBA, I know Mike was a shooter, so I know he’s going to spot up. I’ve just got to look for him. I know Boozer, he’s a roll guy and Noah. So it’s just being around the NBA and knowing their game, and now that I’m playing with them, it’s kind of easy a little bit,” he explained. “[Augustin knew Thibodeau] was a tough coach, but I played for Larry Brown my first three years and he was pretty tough, so I feel like I can handle it. He’s only trying to make me better, not trying to bring me down and it’s really helping me.”
And vice versa.