The Orlando Magic’s trade of Elfrid Payton has given the point guard reigns squarely to D.J. Augustin. He will have to carry the heavy burden now.
D.J. Augustin felt a bit sore heading into practice Thursday. The good kind of sore though. The kind of sore that comes after playing a season-high 35 minutes. Someone had to step in and do it.
That someone for now and for the rest of the season will be Augustin.
The Orlando Magic’s trade of Elfrid Payton on Thursday before the trade deadline will have undoubted ripples throughout the franchise. Any time the team trades its starter away it will have that effect.
It still felt like the Magic were trying to get their footing early in the game. That is until Augustin snapped the team to attention with a killer crossover on Taurean Prince and drive for a layup. The ball is squarely in Augustin’s hands now. He will be the catalyst for the team at point guard for the rest of the year.
"“I’ve started before,” Augustin said. “I’ve been a backup before. I’ve been benched, I’ve been cut, I’ve been traded. I’ve been everything. I know how to handle myself and be ready at all times. That is something I pride myself on is to be ready to do whatever the team needs.”"
Augustin is plenty familiar with the starting role. He has started eight games this year, averaging a meager 8.8 points per game and 5.5 assists per game. He has shot just 39.2 percent from the floor as the starter.
But the Magic are 6-2 in those games. Those eight starts included much of the Magic’s run to 8-4 at the beginning of the season as Payton suffered an injury in the team’s second game.
No one is about to confuse Augustin with the team’s long-term starting point guard. The journeyman veteran has had his ups and downs throughout his career Including with the Magic.
But the one thing he has provided more and more this year is a steady hand and some much-needed floor spacing.
Orlando may have lost a team favorite and a strong player in Payton, but there is supreme confidence Augustin can do more than step in.
"“It’s just a matter of being more consistent,” Augustin said. “It’s hard when you come off the bench and sometimes your minutes are up and down. It’s hard to have that consistency. But just trying to be consistent with my shot and take good shots are things I’m trying to work on.”"
Augustin has had something of a revival this season. Last year, even by Augustin’s estimation, was not a good one for him.
He averaged 7.9 points per game but shot 37.7 percent from the floor and 34.7 percent from beyond the arc last season. It was a difficult year for him. He did not look like a strong backup option. And the Magic ended up signing Shelvin Mack in the offseason to put some pressure on the backup role.
Augustin has bounced back. The work has not gone unnoticed. It is likely in part because of Augustin’s strong showing the team felt comfortable to deal Payton — even for so little as a second round pick. The Magic are confident Augustin can keep the boat steady for now.
"“I definitely think he knew he wasn’t playing at his best,” coach Frank Vogel said. “The team wasn’t either. You are trying to get yourself going and other guys are out of rhythm, it makes it more difficult. He just worked. That’s what I saw in how he got through it. He kept working at it and we kept trying to put him in position to be successful.”"
President of basketball operations Jeff Weltman noted after Thursday’s win over the Atlanta Hawks that the point guard position has changed in the league. It is exceedingly tougher to have a point guard who cannot shoot off the dribble or pull up from three.
That is not a complete indictment of Payton. Payton still did a lot of good things and was a big contributor for the Magic. But, it was certainly an impediment. It was hard for Payton to outweigh that shortcoming as the league changed more and more.
Augustin does not have that problem. He is a 40.1 percent 3-point shooter this year and a 37.3 percent career 3-point shooter. This year, Augustin is hitting on 44.7 percent of his pull-up jumpers, with a 59.4 percent effective field goal percentage.
Where Payton might have been hesitant to shoot, Augustin certainly has Vogel’s trust to shoot it when he is open. Or even when he is semi-open.
That spacing and that threat can certainly make the offense better.
"“D.J. spaces the floor,” Aaron Gordon said. “He is just a knock-down shooter. You can’t leave him or you are going to give up three points. The spacing is there so it leaves driving lanes for the rest of the team. He is a good distributor as well.”"
Augustin has won plenty of shooting competitions against teammates in the last few years. The Magic will benefit from that marksmanship.
But it is still not entirely certain how much the Magic will benefit from this change. Augustin is not the team’s future at point guard. Neither was Payton. There were nights where Payton took over games with his ability to get into the paint and distribute. Augustin does not have that same ability. He is not as strong a driver.
Orlando is in a good groove right now. The three-game win streak has seen the team play a whole lot better. Augustin knows it is his responsibility to keep that going.
"“I just feel like going forward we have to keep doing what we’re doing against any team,” Augustin said. “No matter who we are playing, we just got to move the ball on offense, communicate on defense and play hard on defense. That is what we have been doing in these wins. We just have to do it every night.”"
Orlando will have to make do now. This is the team for the rest of the season. And this is the point guard who will lead them for now.