2020 Orlando Magic Player Evaluations: D.J. Augustin gives young team a guiding hand

D.J. Augustin's shot making and leadership made him a key part of the Orlando Magic. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
D.J. Augustin's shot making and leadership made him a key part of the Orlando Magic. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

D.J. Augustin’s future with the Orlando Magic is still a major question. But whether he fits or not, his guiding hand and leadership proved valuable.

The best way to describe D.J. Augustin‘s impact is not by describing any play he made on the court or impact moment. It is not about reading off statistics from a big-time performance.

D.J. Augustin absolutely had moments like that. It was not that he did not have an impact on the floor. It is not that he was just window dressing on a team that was playoff-bound or a former starter entering the twilight of his career.

Still, Augustin’s most valuable play was what he would do after every practice.

With young players and players on the roster called up from the G-League. It was no quiet game or no quiet moment. It was often loud and boisterous. Augustin, chatting and cajoling the young players. The kind of trash talk and swagger that only a veteran can give to young players.

The seemingly daily “around the world” competitions are not just mere shooting practice. They were a way for Augustin to keep young players involved. It was a way to give the team some energy and stay invested.

And, yes, a way to give the team some swagger.

As the Orlando Magic debate — or at least their fans debate — whether to go younger or whether to push forward with a playoff team, one thing is abundantly clear: It will be hard to replace these kinds of moments and this kind of instruction.

Augustin’s value is as the veteran, the old hand guiding younger teammates. And, especially as Markelle Fultz continues to develop, having someone like D.J. Augustin whispering in his ear will be extremely valuable.

"“I can tell you D.J. is a true professional,” Jeff Weltman said after the season ended. “He’s a pleasure to have around every day. He keeps it serious when it has to be serious and keeps it light when it can be light. I know his teammates weigh his regard very heavily.”"

Augustin for the season averaged 10.5 points per game and 4.6 assists per game in 24.9 minutes per game. He shot just 39.9-percent from the floor, including 34.8-percent from deep in what was a down year.

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The Magic, still being cautious with Fultz, had Augustin as the team’s starter at the beginning of the year. But it was clear Fultz would help the team more and Augustin graciously moved to the bench.

Augustin would often say, he did not care whether he started or came off the bench. Just as long as he played.

It is the kind of selflessness and veteran know-how, confidence and swagger that makes Augustin so valuable.

His play was never completely about what he did on the floor — although that remained important — it was the impact he had off of it. And that will make deciding whether to retain him this offseason so difficult for the Magic.

The importance of spacing

But D.J. Augustin did not have as strong a season on the court this year. After shooting 42.1-percent from three in 2019 (and better than 40-percent in 2018), he certainly has the reputation as a shooter the Magic need. But his poor 3-point shooting still hurt a team that had so few reliable shooters.

Even with poor 3-point shooting, the spacing he provides is so vital.

Augustin was still a reliable catch-and-shoot option from beyond the arc, making 46.5-percent of his shots in those opportunities. That is one of the reasons the sometimes controversial two-point-guard lineups worked.

While too often Augustin was the one initiating action in those lineups they still worked in some ways — the Magic had a +10.8 net rating in 409 minutes with Michael Carter-Williams, but the lineup with Markelle Fultz was nowhere near as successful. That is because Augustin is effective as a floor spacer.

The Magic rarely got Augustin off the ball. But he was effective working around screens too. The Magic had some areas of Augustin’s offense they needed to explore more especially without their 3-point shooting.

Augustin’s poor 3-point percentage might have led some teams to shade off him some. And he was still capable of burning teams that did not respect his 3-point shot. Even if it was a bit inconsistent — gravity metrics from Basketball Index suggest he broke even suggesting defenses did not know whether to stay on him or leave him.

And he delivered in the playoffs, making 47.1-percent of his 3-point shots.

Whether it was on cuts or using his dribble, Augustin is very good at creating space for his 3-point shot. This is still his biggest value to the team overall.

But Augustin is also a solid pick and roll player.

The Magic scored 0.94 points per possession on pick and rolls when Augustin was the ball handler, according to NBA.com’s tracking statistics. That put him in the 74th percentile. Only low-frequency Terrence Ross and slightly higher-frequency Evan Fournier scored more often in pick and rolls for the Magic.

Augustin was running pick and rolls on 53.8-percent of his possessions. Among players who averaged 5.0 pick and roll possessions or more this season, that rate is second in the league behind only Derrick Rose. The Magic scored on 42.6-percent of Augustin’s possessions.

Augustin is an expert at creating space. And he did that really well in pick and rolls. He is especially good at getting into the lane and kicking out to open shooters.

Augustin is not merely good at creating space for himself, he is really good at creating space for others with his smarts in pick and rolls.

There are several instances where he does a good job dribbling to the free-throw line, drawing in the big man in the pick and roll and then kicks it out to Mohamed Bamba or Nikola Vucevic behind the 3-point line.

His passing is precise too and that helped him make clean passes to Ross to get right into his jumper. That kind of ability does not show up in any statistical measure. Crisp, on-time passing is essential to a team’s success.

All is not good, here, of course.

Augustin does have a penchant for dribbling too deep and not being able to get himself out. He turned it over on 15.2-percent of his pick-and-roll possessions and his passing efficiency — a measure that looks at bad pass turnovers compared to high-value assists and other measures — is not good.

But his overall passing and playmaking are both promising in that he makes simple plays that can create shot opportunities and discouraging in that he does little to elevate the team.

Fitting the vision

And that leads to the other problem within D.J. Augustin’s gameplay and why his future is so in flux with the team.

Augustin does not fit the team’s overall vision. As spunky as he is, he tends to dribble the air out of the ball. And while his probing is good, no player had more of a negative impact on pace and the kind of pace the Magic need to succeed offensively.

He had one of the most negative impacts on pace according to metrics Basketball Index uses involving 538’s RAPTOR metric. He was in the bottom fifth-percentile in terms of playing faster.

Other numbers suggest this too — the Magic played at a pace of 99.6 possessions per 48 minutes with Augustin on the floor, the worst mark of any rotation player on the team. Granted, the Magic played at a 100.1 pace with Augustin off the floor.

2020 Orlando Magic Player Outlook: D.J. Augustin. light. Related Story

Augustin is not likely the sole reason the Magic played at a slower pace. But his probing and the general way he brings the ball up the floor naturally gets the Magic into their offense slower, even if he can create some in the pick and roll and spread the floor as a shooter.

This obviously does not fit with the direction the Magic are trying to grow and develop their team. Coach Steve Clifford spoke all year about the team’s desire to play faster. Augustin does not fit that.

Neither does he fit in with the team’s defensive vision either. Notably, Augustin is a smaller point guard without the requisite length to be an impact defender.

Augustin has never been a great defender either and that was evident this year.

There is virtually no defensive statistic where Augustin rates highly. He has had a positive defensive box plus-minus just twice in his career. This season, he posted a defensive box plus-minus of -1.3, only his first year in Orlando was worse.

The Magic are not relying on Augustin to be a defensive maven by any means. But this is another sign of how he does not fit the long-term vision of the team. At least, on the court.

They need him too

B-. . PG. Orlando Magic. D.J. AUGUSTIN

But it was also evident how much the Orlando Magic needed him too. He missed 15 games in January with bone irritation. The Magic’s offensive rating dropped to 106.4 (28th in the league) during the month Augustin was out.

That was the Magic’s offensive rating with Augustin on the floor anyway. But at least part of that was because he played often with an offensively challenged second unit.

Orlando went 5-10 in that time — going from well ahead of 2019’s pace to somehow behind it. Augustin’s absence was a major loss to the team. And the team has to consider that as they decide whether to retain him in free agency this offseason.

Where there is no debate is how important his role was off the court. Those shooting sessions and veteran leadership that fans do not get to see on the court — talks on the plan or in film sessions — that will be difficult to replace.

It all paints a difficult picture when evaluating Augustin’s season.

There is a lot to consider. The Magic undoubtedly need his shooting and his veteran leadership was valuable to young players like Markelle Fultz. A short-term deal to keep him around could be valuable to the team.

But he is also clearly not someone who fits the long-term vision. And the 2021 season especially seems like a time to put the focus on the future rather than to cling to the past.

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