Go DJ, That’s My DJ
USA Today Sports
When the Chicago Bulls announced their signing of free agent guard D.J. Augustin, I’ll readily admit I was one of the first to groan at the move. Sure, the Bulls needed backcourt depth in the wake of Derrick Rose’s season-ending meniscus tear and it was becoming quite clear that Marquis Teague and Kirk “Glassman” Hinrich couldn’t adequately fill the hole, but still this was Augustin. The much-maligned point guard was cut by the Toronto Raptors earlier in the season, not traded, not moved to a team because of a need… just cut. That speaks volumes.
Augustin became a journeyman of sorts after looking like he’d have real potential in the early part of his career with the Charlotte Bobcats. After a disastrous season in Indiana, Augustin took his services to Toronto where they promptly said, “thanks but no thanks” and I was supposed to be excited about this bum coming to my team?!
My friends continued to ask about Augustin, what can we expect, should we be excited. Expect bad, no don’t be excited, he sucks, he’s a bum, cut by Toronto earlier this year, blah blah blah.
And yet, here we are, January 23 and boy am I eating crow. In what might be the ultimate coaching job by Tom Thibodeau, Augustin has not only been serviceable for the Chicago Bulls, he’s been really god damn good. In Augustin’s 10 games with Toronto, he averaged 2.1 points-per-game on 29.2% shooting. Since joining the Bulls (21 games), Augustin is averaging roughly 13 points-per-game on 43% and passing out 6.1 assists-per-game. Over his last 10 games, Augustin has broken out and has arguably been the Bulls top player. Averages of 16.5 points-per-game, 6.6 assists-per-game and 45% from the field, not bad at all DJ.
Last night against the Cleveland Cavaliers, it was apparent from the outset of the game the Cavs were looking to thwart Augustin, even going as far as to double team him. A guy who averaged 2.1 points-per-game in the first 10 games of the season is now the sole focus of a team’s defense. Unbelievable.
So, what exactly is going on here?
I looked at a number of possible factors. The first, obviously, is playing time. Augustin was buried on Toronto’s depth chart and while the Bulls are a much better team than the Raptors, they were and still are starving for backcourt depth. This led to Augustin being signed and it’s led to his large increase in minutes per game.
Since the Luol Deng trade, the Bulls have also had to replace a lot of the offense Deng brought. It wasn’t much, but it was significant enough for a team that has enough trouble scoring as is. This has led to a rather large increase in Usage Rate for Augustin, again, a by-product of the team and something he was never going to get in Toronto, espeically not during the Rudy Gay-era.
One thing more than anything stood out and that’s the Bulls use of pick-and-roll with Augustin and their elimination of his catch-and-shoot game. Simply put, they are allowing Augustin to possess the ball far more than Toronto, Charlotte or Indiana did and it’s worked wonders.
Last year, Augustin’s unassisted 3PM was 13.4%, this year that number has skyrocketed to 52.3%. It’s no surprised that his field goal percentage, three-point percentage and general worth has skyrocketed along with that.
Here are a few of his possessions as a Toronto Raptor, most of these feature Augustin in a catch-and-shoot role, a role completely unfit for him.
#1: Augustin is the primary ball-handler at the start of the possession but pass it off to Amir Johnson who begins initiating the offense. Augustin’s man loses him and Hansbrough sets a pretty solid screen giving Augustin an open look. Didn’t matter, clank.
#2: This is a disaster of a possession. Augustin isn’t doing catch-and-shoot here but the offense set is just… I don’t know. No spacing, no flow, just awful. Augustin gets a decent look but the play is broken from the get-go and never gets better.
#3: Augustin wisely slows the pace when he realizes he doesn’t have numbers what follows is almost the exact same play we saw in #1. Augustin gets free and has an open look, but it doesn’t matter, clank.
#4: Very basic here, Augustin treks down court and his defender loses him. Quick little pass to the wing, but again, doesn’t matter, clank.
As I mentioned, the key to Augustin’s success with the Bulls has been his pick-and-roll game, here’s the Raptors, I guess, attempting to put Augustin in that position. The problem is the Raptors have no spacing, nobody appears to know what to do and the lane is just insanely clogged. What in god’s name is Hansbrough doing here? Also, why does Landry Fields try to bring his man into the lane? Viewer discretion is advised.
The above video is from the early Chicago Augustin-era and it’s very similar to how Augustin was used in Toronto. It’s no wonder he struggled his first handful of games with the Bulls. Again, there’s a reliance on catch-and-shoot with DJ and he’s frankly not that good at all as evidenced by his pedestrian 36% on catch-and-shoot FGs.
In the first clip, Augustin is the primary ball-handler but sends the ball off, tries to free himself and ends up with nada. Second clip, he gets the ball into Taj Gibson who brings Augustin’s man down with him, kickout to Augustin, again, clank. He’s just not great at catch-and-shoot and thankfully for Bulls fans, Thibodeau figured it out.
It may sound blasphemous and my past self can’t imagine saying it but I see a lot of Rose in Augustin. Obviously, Augustin isn’t 1/90th the player Rose is but the way Thibs had structured his offense around the high pick-and-roll and how easily Augustin has attacked defenders off the dribble — it’s hard not to see him as a homeless man’s Derrick Rose.
#1: Veteran center Nazr Mohammed runs the show at the outset of this possession trying to give Augustin some space to operate in and waving the rest of the Bulls to the baseline and corners. Mohammed then comes up to set a high PNR giving Augustin just enough space to hit a nice pull-up jumper.
#2: Augustin starts this possession working off ball but when a back cut to Jimmy Butler fails, the Bulls go through Augustin and a high PNR again (this time with Joakim Noah initating). The defense sags on Augustin (a totally reasonable thing to do), he takes a few dribbles and knocks down the three. Very nice.
#3: Nearly the same play as above. Lakers go low on the high PNR and Augustin makes ‘em pay. This is very reminiscent of the 2010-11 Chicago Bulls offense and the consistent three-point shooting that turned Rose into the NBA’s Most Valuable Player.
#4: Nothing to see here. High PNR, Lakers go low, Augustin makes them pay. I double-dipped one #4 because the early one doesn’t have much there. This is an interesting play, very odd actually, the Bulls give Augustin two options with both Taj Gibson and Noah setting high screens. Augustin choses Noah’s side and instead of pulling up for three, blazes through the Lakers defense and gets to the rack.
#5: A somewhat broken play, Gibson eventually sets a decent screen for Augustin, who takes it to the hole. He’s met by good defense but the difference between the Raptors spacing in one of the earlier videos and this one is evident. Augustin has room to operate and put up a little floater.
#6: This one is funny. Whole lot of ball movement, eventually it gets to Augustin who has a ton of space at the top of the key. You could argue he’d be fine just breaking down his man and driving but the Bulls are Tom Thibodeau’s team. Noah gets up there, sets the high PNR and Augustin smartly fakes to Noah’s side then drives off-hand giving him a clear path to the lane. Beautiful.
It’s been a fun ride for the Bulls and Augustin. I’m not sure how long it will last, or if it will last. I have no reason to believe it won’t. That’s not to say Augustin will consistently be in the 15-20 point range but there’s nothing to suggest a complete implosion like we’ve seen in previous years with Augustin. He’s more confident than he’s ever been, he’s getting the ball in his hands and he’s been given the freedom to end possessions and finally utilize his top-tier speed.
Thibodeau is a miracle worker who has made a lot of money for his reserves, Augustin’s transformation may be his best work yet.