Orlando Magic eager to get D.J. Augustin back

D.J. Augustin's absence these last 15 games have undoubtedly hurt the Orlando Magic. (Photo by Harry Aaron/Getty Images)
D.J. Augustin's absence these last 15 games have undoubtedly hurt the Orlando Magic. (Photo by Harry Aaron/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic have struggled the last 15 games with backup point guard D.J. Augustin on the shelf. His return is imminent and the team cannot wait.

During Orlando Magic practices recently as players trickle out for media responsibilities and the rest of their days, D.J. Augustin hangs back.

Usually, he is on the court playing shooting games with other players on the team, his trash talk usually filling up the gym adding different energy to the tail end of practices and some of the monotony and routine of the daily grind.

He has not been able to play those games much since going out with bone irritation in his left knee on Jan. 13. It has been a month of simple rest. There was not much else to do with the injury other than to let it heal on its own.

So for much of the past month, D.J. Augustin has quietly started shooting set shots on the opposite hoop under the watchful eye of one of the team’s assistant coaches. He was simply keeping the motion fresh. There was no jumping or moving around. This is what recovery looks like.

And slowly it builds to what it looked like last Wednesday before the Orlando Magic’s last game against the Detroit Pistons. One-on-one contact against Melvin Frazier. Augustin has slowly built himself back up and the Magic are eager to see him back on the court.

Augustin returned to practice and participated fully Wednesday as the Magic returned from the All-Star Break.

However, coach Steve Clifford said the team will not know his status for Friday’s game against the Dallas Mavericks until Friday afternoon. It would appear the team is still monitoring how he responds to stress and pressure before clearing him to return.

Clifford said Augustin left Thursday’s practice early after taking a hard fall. But team officials did not seem concerned that it would keep him out at all. The team will re-evaluate him Friday afternoon before making a decision on whether he will return.

Like with other injured players, the Magic want him back for good and want to avoid him starting and stopping his return. That was likely behind the decision to hold him out when they did.

They wanted Augustin for this stretch. And for good reason. Augustin makes a clear impact, even if it does not reflect clearly through his statistics.

In the last 15 games, the Magic have missed Augustin’s stability on offense and organization. The team has missed their backup point guard immensely as they try to navigate the playoff race.

The Magic have gone just 5-10 since Augustin exited the lineup with the injury. They have had a 106.4 offensive rating (28th in the league) and 113.1 defensive rating in that time (19th in the league). Orlando’s -6.7 net rating in these last 15 games is 27th in the league.

Essentially, in the time Augustin has been out of the lineup, the Magic have played like one of the worst teams in the league statistically.

That is not all on Augustin’s absence of course. The Magic have had plenty of other issues. And many of them are not things Augustin necessarily fixes.

The team’s slippage defensively is a team-wide problem. No one will mistake Augustin for a defensive difference-maker.

Still, Augustin provides a nice level of consistency in how he attacks. He may not get the team out in transition consistently, but he runs the team through the offense well and makes few mistakes. He is good at keeping his dribble alive and probing the lane to find space to get others open. He makes pinpoint passes and executes effectively, easing the playmaking burden for manhy of the Magic’s other players.

Augustin is simply someone who helps make the offense run smoother and knows how to get teammates the ball in their preferred spots while creating plays off the dribble.

Augustin is averaging 10.7 points per game and 4.7 assists per game this year. He is shooting a 46.5 percent effective field goal percentage, thanks in large part of a down 3-point shooting year (34.6 percent).

Some of that is shifting away from Augustin and putting him with the reserves as Markelle Fultz has ascended into the starting lineup. Augustin has had to adjust.

However, for the season, Augustin leads regular rotation players in on-court net rating. The team has a +1.3 net rating with Augustin on the floor. Some of that ranking is because Augustin has been out during the Magic’s worst stretch of play this season.

Before Augustin’s injury on Jan. 13, he was third in that mark behind Nikola Vucevic and Markelle Fultz.

The bench has had mixed results. The group has struggled in some respects but excelled in others. Much of the Magic’s frustrations in the last 15 games have come from inconsistent play from the starters.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

But that reserve group has had many difficulties holding onto leads or maintaining deficits at manageable margins, especially at the end of the first quarter when Augustin is usually in as the primary playmaker.

Augustin provides consistency to the lineup and helps organize the team. Michael Carter-Williams is a good spark plug, but he is not as good at getting into the lane and creating passing lanes. Nor is he as good in pick and rolls — 0.65 points per possessions in pick and rolls according to Synergy data, compared to Augustin’s 0.96 points per possession.

That is where Augustin might help the most. He simply pairs well with several key players.

For instance, Nikola Vucevic’s top net rating comes with Augustin on the floor — +10.4 points per 100 possessions. That duo has been a top pick-and-roll duo in the league for much of the last two years.

"“I love playing with D.J.,” Vucevic said after Thursday’s practice. “Last year, he and I had great chemistry in the pick and roll. He’s a great guy. A great team player to have. We obviously miss him a lot. I think everybody can see that. Especially with that second unit, he brings a lot for us. He’s a veteran, he knows how to play and he makes the right play.”"

Vucevic has averaged 19.3 points per game and 9.7 rebounds per game in his last 15 games as he has started to round into form statistically. He is still shooting 32.7 percent from beyond the arc in those 15 games. Undoubtedly some of those shots could be made better with added chemistry playing with Augustin.

So too could Vucevic’s pick and roll game. Not that Vucevic and Fultz have been a poor pairing, but it is clear that Vuceivc and Augustin have a deeper understanding.

Augustin’s absence has been something of a trickle-down effect.

A part of the Magic’s attack has been absent. Augustin is adept at playing on the ball and keeping his dribble alive through the paint to find that small gap in the defense. He has his limitations, but Augustin is undoubtedly a calming presence for the team.

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And the team is eager to have him back on the floor.