D.J. Augustin has had a rough year, still deserves Orlando Magic’s defense

D.J. Augustin has had a frustrating season statistically. But he still proves to be vitally important for the Orlando Magic. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
D.J. Augustin has had a frustrating season statistically. But he still proves to be vitally important for the Orlando Magic. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images) /

Fans seemed to pile on D.J. Augustin, meriting a response from some players. The Orlando Magic clearly need him despite Augustin’s struggles this year.

The Internet can be a difficult place sometimes. Every fan base has its dark corners and players they love and players they hate. Often times both. And the season is always long with its ups and downs.

Opinions on players change quickly. Narratives change quickly.

Players have to push through this. They often bury their heads among the noise of the season. They appreciate and support fans but rarely do they see the underbelly of fandom. They honestly cannot without going mad.

D.J. Augustin has been a bit of a pariah this season for Orlando Magic fans.

He has had a poor season, not performing to last year’s levels. There is plenty to criticize about his game. But sometimes things get to hyperbole. And sometimes they find its way to the team.

Nikola Vucevic saw a question a Magic fan wrote in a mailbag from Josh Robbins of The Athletic (subscription required) describing D.J. Augustin as by-far the worst player on the team. And the usually mild-mannered Nikola Vucevic had to respond and stick up for his teammate.

"“As a pure Magic fan, you don’t say things like that and, honestly it pissed me off because I know how much D.J. cares, how much of a pro he is and how much he’s given up,’’ Vucevic told the media after Sunday’s win over the Houston Rockets (h/t John Denton of OrlandoMagic.com). “To accept a lesser role when he had a great year (while) starting last year, it says a lot about him. I saw that and it was really disappointing to see fans write things like that about somebody who is a true pro and somebody who has been in this league for so long and knowing he just came back from an injury. You know that he tried, but things weren’t working for him and it happens. Everybody goes through a little stretch like that.”"

Player/fan sniping usually remains inside the locker room. Fans get their say on the message boards and online, but players usually have to keep these criticisms to themselves. That is the lot of being a player and constantly in the spotlight.

Everyone has to just duck their heads and do their jobs in a lot of ways.

In fairness, Robbins spoke to the fan that submitted the question and the fan admitted he probably went overboard and dipped into fan hyperbole (subscription required). It is a careful reminder that there are humans on the others side of these players and they are not NBA 2K automatons that just fit and work together without personalities or other human problems.

Still, it says something about Augustin that a longtime teammate felt the need to stick up for him. It was obviously easier to do after a 24-point effort from Augustin in a big win for the team. Players respect and understand Augustin’s sacrifice and still appreciate how he helps this team.

But there is room to criticize Augustin. It has been a frustrating statistical season for him.

Augustin is averaging 10.3 points per game and 4.6 assists per game in 24.8 minutes per game (a little more than three minutes per game fewer than last season). Where he has suffered is with his shooting, dipping to a 46.8-percent effective field goal percentage. Augustin is hitting on just 34.1-percent of his 3-pointers.

Augustin certainly has his flaws and his struggles as a player, especially defensively. When Augustin is struggling to shoot, he loses a lot of his value. That criticism has always been valid.

But Augustin provides a bit of stability. He is someone that is a solid player and keeps the team at its pace. He can keep his dribble alive and does a good job finding players who cut off his forays into the paint.

Augustin simply was struggling with his spot-up and 3-point shots. The Magic needed that from him as one of the team’s best shooters.

It has been a rough season for Augustin. It was made more difficult because of his injury — bone irritation in his left knee that caused him to miss 15 games and tendonitis that had bothered him before he sat out. He needed the time to get healthy again.

It did not help that Augustin, after missing a month of games, struggled in his return. Augustin scored just 10 points in his first three games back and shot 3 for 13 in those games. In the middle of a playoff race, those poor numbers stood out and raised fan ire.

The reality is that Augustin’s impact can be a bit subtler. And he has coach Steve Clifford’s trust.

And that trust is earned. The Magic have a +1.7 net rating with Augustin on the floor, the best mark of any player on the team. A big reason for that is because Augustin missed those 15 games. Orlando went 5-10 without Augustin out with an injury.

That is at least a correlation. The Magic missed his stability and ability to organize the team, especially off the bench with fewer offensive options.

Since the All-Star Break, the Magic have a +3.6 net rating with Augustin on the floor. The Magic’s bench units have been playing better and Augustin has helped a lot on that front.

Players certainly respect Augustin a ton. His veteran presence is a real thing and players value his consistency as much as coaches do.

The reality is Augustin needed some time to get himself right and get himself healthy. It feels like he is turning a corner — scoring 18 points in the win over the Minnesota Timberwolves and then 24 against the Houston Rockets on Sunday.

The Magic are not expecting that every night. But seeing Augustin weave his way through defenses again has helped unlock the Magic’s offense yet again.

It helped Orlando get two big wins. And the hope is that he has returned to stability.

None of this will change Augustin’s future with the team. He will be a free agent this offseason and it is unclear what the Magic will ultimately do with him. He is important for that veteran leadership but also does not fit the overall vision this team seems to have.

Those decisions are left for the summer.

But everyone needed to take a step back and breathe a little. The Magic needed that deep breath to give Augustin the chance to recover. And fans certainly needed to stop being prisoners of the moment and give Augustin the chance to recover and get back into rhythm.

Next. Orlando Magic must trust youth to erase deficits. dark

The team clearly knows how much it will need Augustin down the stretch. And it seems like Augustin is starting to deliver again.