As the Bulls said goodbye to one point guard Saturday night, another stepped up and showed why he’s going to be key to the team’s continued turnaround.
D.J. Augustin came off the bench to score 19 points on 7-for-10 shooting and dish out eight assists in the Bulls’ 103-78 win over the Sixers, providing a spark of offense and an important change of pace to an offense that shot nearly 49 percent from the floor in one of its most complete outings of the year.
“I feel pretty good. I’m just going out there playing freely, doing whatever coach needs me to do, whatever my teammates need me to do and basically just trying to get them the ball, trying to get them open. And at the same time, coach wants me to look for myself at the same time.”
Augustin arrived in Chicago on Dec. 13 after clearing waivers from the Raptors, who released him to make room for the players they received in a deal that sent Rudy Gay to the Kings. In Toronto, he had averaged just 8.2 minutes in 10 games with the Raptors, losing playing time to starter Kyle Lowry and reserve Dwight Buycks.
It was the second straight sub-par stop for Augustin, who had played 16.1 minutes per game as a back-up with the Indiana Pacers last year, averaging 4.7 points and 2.2 assists.
But the Bulls needed help at point guard. Following Derrick Rose’s season-ending knee injury, Tom Thibodeau had Kirk Hinrich and Marquis Teague, who was dealt to the Nets earlier Saturday, at his disposal (Mike James was released three days after Augustin was signed).
And for as well as Hinrich has played of late defensively, it’s been Augustin’s offensive aggressiveness and ability to be an outside threat while making good decisions in transition that’s moving the Bulls along.
“He’s a good player, and for whatever reason — he’s had some great moments, some great years in the league, and he’s had some where he had a lesser role — but to me he’s very smart, he can shoot, run the pick and roll,” Thibodeau said. “He’s done a lot of great things for our team, so it was a great pick-up for us.”
The second quarter belonged to Augustin. He played all 12 minutes — half of which came with Hinrich at shooting guard — scored nine points and handed out seven assists to push the Bulls’ lead to 20 by intermission.
He did it with an array of transition passes, drives to the basket off pick-and-rolls and timely outside shooting (he made 2-of-4 3-pointers in the quarter). The pick-and-rolls, in particular, have impressed the Bulls’ two big men, Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer.
“D.J. came in and got everybody open shots, then he scored a lot for himself, too. (He’s) really got a great sense of the game, a real good feel,” said Boozer, who finished with 15 points in the win. “Now that he’s got our offense down he’s playing even more efficient. He’s been playing terrific.”
Added Noah, who led the Bulls with 21 points: “D.J.’s really good on the pick and roll, always looking for the roll guy.”
It’s been a transition for Augustin learning the Bulls’ offense and truly embracing Thibodeau’s philosophy of working every possession, but it’s something he knew he would have to do after playing against Chicago so many times.
“I knew from playing against these guys it was a tough team to play against, tough arena to come and play in, to win in,” Augustin said. “And now that I’m a part of it I see why. We go out and play hard every night no matter who’s on the floor and we’re going to play hard, play defense and fight until the end.”
He’s also part of Thibodeau’s game plan, rather than being someone to stop in it. He admitted he’s most confident running the break, where he can use his speed, quickness and decision-making to beat defenses down the court. Thibodeau wants to see that out of him, too.
“He’s a tough coach, but at the same time he brings the best out of you as a player,” Augustin said. “He makes you play hard and play confident.”
And that's exactly what Augustin is doing for the Bulls.