Although he currently splits minutes at the position with veteran starter Kirk Hinrich in a platoon scenario, D.J. Augustin is nominally a backup point guard, perhaps the NBA’s best in the role this season coming to Chicago back in December.
With apologies to the likes of Houston’s Jeremy Lin and the Clippers’ Darren Collison, Augustin’s impact on the Bulls qualifies as unparalleled from a reserve floor general this campaign, as evidenced by the Bulls’ league-best mark since the new calendar year began, after the New Orleans native got his bearings. But the sixth-year pro has exceeded expectations and as grateful as he’s been for the opportunity the Bulls provided him in rejuvenating his career after disappointing stops in Indiana and Toronto, there’s no guarantee that he’ll be back in a Bulls uniform next summer, as potential suitors around the league have taken notice of his success and will compete for his services in free agency.
Drafted by Charlotte out of the University of Texas in 2008, Augustin was the ninth overall pick and after backing up Raymond Felton for a few seasons, he excelled as the Bobcats’ starting point guard. While he’s far too humble to say it, the confidence he’s regained playing for the Bulls has to encourage the belief that he could be a starter in the NBA again, something that would be prohibitive in Chicago next season with Derrick Rose back in the lineup.
In a point guard-oriented league, the likes of the Lakers, Knicks and Heat, among other teams, will be looking for a starting-caliber player at the position in free agency, which will make Augustin a hot commodity. It remains to be seen whether he would take less to remain in Chicago or how much the Bulls would be willing to spend to retain him, but for now, the diminutive floor general is enjoying his current situation.
“I’ve just been in the moment, trying to work hard every day, and just go out there and play hard, play well and do whatever it takes to help the team win. And we’ve been doing great,” said Augustin, who is averaging 14.3 points and 5.2 assists per game, in addition to 41.8-percent shooting from three-point range since joining the Bulls. “This is probably the most comfortable I’ve felt in a long time, maybe since my Charlotte days and just getting an opportunity. Being out there playing and playing through mistakes. Thibs gives you the opportunity to play through mistakes and that just helps a player’s confidence level.”
Augustin has taken to the style of Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, who is tough on players, while still prodding them to play to their strengths, even when they’re struggling.
“You’re not going to make every shot in every game. You’ve just got to stay with it, keep shooting and get extra shot. With Thibs, it doesn’t matter. He sticks with you, and lets you play through your mistakes and your rough patches,” he explained. “I’ve played for coaches when if you miss two shots or make a mistake, a turnover, they take you right out of the game. So that’s hard for any player and with Thibs, he gives you a chance to make adjustments.
“He’s a great guy to play for and I love playing for him.”
Augustin often faces a size disadvantage and while his quickness, clever ball handling ability and outside shooting can mitigate that fact on the offensive end of the floor, defense is another story. But playing for the Thibodeau and the Bulls, he’s also improved on that side of the ball.
“[Thibodeau] definitely pushes you. You’re not going to be on the floor if you’re not playing defense. Once I learned the schemes, that helped out a lot, too, and just knowing that I have guys like Joakim and Booz and Taj down low helping me if I get beat, that just helps me if I want to pressure the ball and get up into my man,” Augustin said. “I think it’s everything. Thibs, he’s very intense, especially as far as defense, and playing with guys like Joakim, you can’t go out there and play lax with a guy like that, who’s bringing energy. You have to bring the same amount of energy, especially on defense, and that’s what we do every night.”
Augustin’s teammates are appreciative of his contributions, realizing that his addition is one of the primary reasons the Bulls are the league’s winningest team in the 2014 calendar year.
“D.J. has been playing great basketball and we wouldn’t be in the position we’re in right now if we wouldn’t have picked him up. He’s playing really confident,” Bulls All-Star center Joakim Noah said. “We wouldn’t be in this position if it wasn’t for him, that’s for sure.”