D.J. Augustin is the only back-up point guard in the NBA with a starting job.
That sentence says more about the Orlando Magic, and their gaping hole at the point guard position, than it does about Augustin himself.
The Magic know Augustin isn’t a starting-caliber point guard (at least I think/hope they do). Augustin, who didn’t exactly demand that the Magic give him the job but instead was thrust into it, probably knows it himself. Pretty much every fan and media type knows it. That was made blatantly and painfully obvious by a story posted by FanSided on Monday that ranked Augustin as the worst starting point guard in the league, trailing two rookies…and Elfrid Payton!
The Magic even tweeted out a photo for a ticket promotion that included the entire projected starting five except for Augustin. (More surprising was that it didn’t include Mo Bamba, their newest and biggest attraction).
Every game. Every team. ️— Orlando Magic (@OrlandoMagic) August 23, 2018
Tickets for our 30th anniversary season on sale August 30! pic.twitter.com/wxBhx2HFdX
Unless the Magic are planning to start Jonathon Simmons at the point, it almost seemed as if they didn’t want to promote the fact that they have a career back-up playing what is arguably the most integral position on an NBA roster in a league now prioritizing guard play.
So, after point guard rankings and Twitter slights, I’m here to defend D.J. Augustin.
But not by arguing that a player who has started just 226 of 726 games during his 10-year career is worthy of a starting role. While his numbers last season were respectable in some categories (10.3 points per game and 41.9 percent shooting from three), his shortcomings were quite evident by others (3.8 assists per game and -2.5 defensive box plus/minus).
My defense of Augustin - who in 36 games as a starter last season averaged 11.7 points and 5.0 assists and shot 45.9 percent, including 42.3 percent from three - is based solely on the fact that he is a perfectly capable one-year placeholder. And that’s all the Magic need for the 2018-2019 season, which is set to be another rebuilding season filled with trial and error and long-term development.
Augustin, as the eight teams he has played for well know, isn’t a natural playmaker. He has a shoot-first mentality. He’s a defensive liability. The Magic, at least for this season, can live with that. They simply need him to be a steadying force.
Would a point guard with a better assist rate who can force a defense to collapse and then thread the needle to the team’s bigs be more beneficial to the growth of Mo Bamba, Jonathan Isaac and Aaron Gordon? Of course.
And that day will come. Perhaps it will come as soon as next season via the Draft or free agency. Perhaps it comes at the trade deadline if the Magic unload Evan Fournier or the expiring contracts of Nikola Vucevic or Terrence Ross. Or perhaps it comes even sooner if Jerian Grant or Isaiah Briscoe somehow prove to be a revelation.
But the immediacy for a point guard is clearly not felt within the Magic front office the way it is among the fanbase. Not when the team is destined for the lottery and when Augustin is on the books for the next two seasons at $7.25 million per. Not when an elite point guard, if one was even attainable and/or worth attaining at this stage, would rush what will be a very slow and calculated development of the Magic’s young core.
Augustin, to borrow a term used to describe mediocre quarterbacks in football, is a game-manager. He won’t elevate a team but he won’t make mistakes on a nightly basis that will cost the team wins. So for a team looking to develop rather than contend, he gives the Magic what they need for now: a veteran presence, a dependable ball handler and a floor spacer.
And more importantly, a stopgap.
Augustin won’t be climbing the point guard rankings. He won’t be selling any tickets in Orlando. But he also won’t be starting for more than one season, if that.