The best thing that you can say about the Toronto Raptors signing backup point guard D.J. Augustin is that they don’t have him on the books for very long (or for very much money). At $1.26 million for one year, Augustin is a low-risk proposition financially, which is good, because at this point in his career he’s a low-quality option as a backup point guard.
Several years ago, when Augustin was still a member of the Charlotte Bobcats, he looked like an intriguing young player. He was quick, dynamic with the ball and could hit the three with some consistency. Like I said, though, that was several years ago.
Last summer the Bobcats let him walk to the Indiana Pacers after an unimpressive fourth season in the NBA and replaced him with Ramon Sessions. This summer, the Pacers let him walk after a disastrous fifth NBA season and replaced him with C.J. Watson. Over the last two seasons Augustin has shot 36.6% from the field and just 34.7% from behind the arc. While he’s a stellar free throw shooter (87.2% for his career) he almost never gets to the line and his small size (he’s generously listed as six-feet tall) makes him a liability on the defensive end. Only once in his career has he posted a PER above the league average of 15.0 (when he managed 15.9 in 2010-11) and while he’s being brought in to replace John Lucas III, Lucas actually outshines him in just about every statistical category.
The only area of the game that Augustin surpasses Lucas is as a passer, and even then it’s not by much. Augustin ranked in the top 30 amongst guards in assist ratio last season, which is good, but he did it running one of the least effective bench units in the NBA. When he was on the court the Pacers were 6.0 points per 100 possessions worse off than they were will him on the bench (which to be fair should probably be blamed more on the 35% he shot from the field last season than on his abilities as a playmaker) and per 36 minutes he only averaged 5.0 assists per game, compared to 4.6 for Lucas while he was a Raptor.
None of this would be terribly worrying if Augustin was playing behind an iron man in the starting lineup, but starter Kyle Lowry hasn’t played a full 82 game season since 2007-08, and has averaged just 67.3 games per season over the last four years (with the 2011-12 lockout-shortened 66-game schedule adjusted accordingly). That means that, if the average holds true, Augustin could be penciled in for about 16 games as a starter next season. All of a sudden all of those little warts in his game get magnified considerably, especially if Dwight Buykes can’t overcome the typically mediocre performance of Toronto’s recent transplanted D-League point guards Ben Uzoh, Justin Dentmon and Sundiata Gaines.
All of this is a roundabout way of reaffirming the opening sentiment that the best aspect of Augustin’s signing by the Raptors is the short contract and low dollars that he commanded. Sometimes in the NBA you can find bargains in free agency and sometimes you get exactly what you pay for. Barring a significant turnaround season for Augustin, the Raptors look to be getting exactly what they are paying for at the backup point guard spot. Masai Ujiri isn’t exactly drowning in options right now given his club’s tight cap situation so he’s trying to make the most of what he’s got, but this is one of those situations where he seems to be passing the buck a bit to his head coach. Dwane Casey now has to squeeze more out of Augustin than Frank Vogel or Paul Silas could over the last two seasons if he wants to create productive minutes behind Lowry this season – that or turn Buykes into a legit NBA player, whichever path looks easier.