D.J. Augustin might be the best backup point guard the Pistons have had in a quarter century. But is he good enough to beat out Brandon Jennings for the starting spot? When he was first signed, I thought he had the inside track. After studying Augustin's season more closely, I'm not so sure.
Augustin exploded in Chicago as a playmaker, facilitator and someone who could take their grinding offense and get into second gear. Without Augustin's ability to shoot, score and run the offense, the Chicago Bulls almost certainly do not make the playoffs last season. The Pistons seemingly got a steal when they were able to sign Augustin in free agency for $6 million over two years. Finally, the Pistons had a legitimate backup point guard and maybe even somebody that could challenge Brandon Jennings for the starting job should Jennings show the same lack of commitment to defense and questionable decision making he showed in his first season in Detroit last year.
2013-14 Year in Review
Augustin spent the first few years of his career toiling in Charlotte under the thumb of Larry Brown. When he eventually escaped he was viewed as a versatile young offensive weapon and signed with an up-and-coming Pacers squad in need of depth and scoring punch off the bench. It didn't go well. The ball was largely taken out of his hands and his impact was minimal. Out of Indiana after one season, he signed on with the Raptors before last season. It went even worse. Augustin was cut after 10 games with Toronto and it looked like he might be in danger of washing out of the league.
But the Chicago Bulls, fresh off another Derrick Rose injury, signed Augustin and he just about saved their season. He gave the Bulls 30 minutes a game of balanced scoring, adequate defense and the ability to run the Bulls offense for long stretches.
With Chicago, Augustin averaged 14.9 points per game on 42 percent shooting including 41 percent from the 3-point line (on more than five attempts per game). He seemed like the perfect guard for the Bulls offense, and that makes it somewhat difficult to project how he is going to do with the Pistons.
The Bulls had an offense that featured a lot of players that could catch-and-shoot, but few players that you wanted to trust with the ball in their hands. Save for Kirk Hinrich and Joakim Noah, Augustin was the only player who could find the seams in the defense and make the Bulls' deliberate offense work. Augustin would never be mistaken for a flashy or particularly adept passer, but he did get the job done, and that's just what he was asked to do. After extensive film review it became readily apparent that nearly all of Augustin's passes were of two varieties: one-arm bullet passes to a teammate on the perimeter or a simple driving probe into the paint and a dish out to a big man who could sink a 15-foot jumper.
And the Bulls had a lot of those types of players in Carlos Boozer, Taj Gibson and even Noah. But he rarely looked to finish inside. Just 22 percent of his field goal attempts were within three feet, per basketball reference, and he converted at just a 54-percent clip. Where Augustin really shined, and why he was signed by the Pistons, was his ability to hit from deep. And that's something he can do with the help of Detroit's big men.
Augustin hit 40 percent from three in Chicago, but the important question is: Is it repeatable? Augustin was lights out from three in his first two years in Charlotte, hitting 44 and 39 percent, respectively. But his offense took a big hit in years 3-5 as Charlotte couldn't do anything on offense and Augustin was asked to do little more than stand around on the perimeter in Indiana. He could just never find his groove. So he has three years of really good three-point shooting and three bad years.
2014-15 Projected Production
The big question is whether Augustin can supplant Jennings as the starting point guard, and at this point, I'd say that the job is definitely Jennings' to lose. If both Jennings and Augustin are playing as good versions of themselves, I think Jennings wins the starting nod. And that's not a knock on Augustin. The Pistons are not known as a place with quality backup point guards. Think real hard about the last really good backup you saw in a Detroit uniform. It's kind of scary.
Who starts and who comes off the bench might rest on the often-mentioned balance of offense and defense Stan Van Gundy is aiming for in the starting lineup. But to maximize the Pistons' odd mix of talent, I'd put my money on Jennings (assuming that Jennings decides to play something approaching defense this year).
Because, truth be told, Jennings and Augustin are remarkably similar players, with a couple notable exceptions. Let's take a look at their per-36 numbers last season.
|DJ Augustin||Brandon Jennings|
As you can see, Augustin and Jennings do the same kinds of things with the ball, but Augustin is much more efficient. So why do I think that Jennings gets the starting nod? He's simply a much better facilitator of the offense. Augustin can find the open man along the perimeter but he's not nearly as good as creating good inside looks for his big men.
Perhaps this was entirely a function of the offensive system in Chicago but I rarely watched Augustin run plays and came away overly impressed with his decision making, passing or driving ability. It was all good enough, but it was just good enough. And that was fine in Chicago -- they needed a player to get their crop of jump shooters a quality open shot. But Detroit is going to need more than good enough; they are going to need a player that can create and Jennings can be that player.
But even if he doesn't start, Augustin is going to get plenty of minutes and plenty of shots. And he could form a pretty formidable back court bench duo alongside Kentavious Caldwell-Pope as two plus athletes and quality defenders. Augustin could also help take some of the pressure off of Pope with his perimeter shooting ability. He'd also be the best backup point guard since the latter years of the Joe Dumars era. A scary thought.
27 mpg, 12.5 ppg, 42 percent shooting, 38.5 percent 3PFG%, 89 percent FT%, 4.8 assists, 2.0 turnovers