Given the Bulls team-first mentality, it’s almost taboo for any individual to take personal credit for any success on the floor.
Even with Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau praising Taj Gibson as the team’s most consistent player and Joakim Noah playing at a level worthy of a second straight All-Star nod in February, it’s hard to imagine where the team would be without the play of D.J. Augustin, who signed with the team on December 13 after being waived by the Toronto Raptors to make room for players acquired in a trade with Sacramento.
The signing was a move to limit the workload placed on Kirk Hinrich after Derrick Rose went down for the season in November. Hinrich was playing almost 40 minutes a game in December before Augustin came aboard.
It’s hard to believe a player who struggled mightily last season in the backup role in Indiana and so bad in Toronto – that he only appeared in 10 games and was stuck behind an undrafted free agent and a D-League pickup – is now finishing games for the Bulls, who are 12-6 since he arrived.
“I think sometimes in this league when you get a fresh start that can help,” Mike Dunleavy said of Augustin. “It’s a clean slate for him. He’s come in with a lot of confidence, being aggressive, shooting the ball great; he’s just in a nice rhythm. That happens with guys that are talented like D.J. I think a little bit of it is the situation he’s comfortable in, just kind of regaining confidence and playing well.”
Playing really well.
Gibson’s buzzer-beating game-winning layup lifted the Bulls over the Los Angeles Lakers in overtime on Monday, but they’re not even in that position without Augustin scoring 11 of his game-high 27 points in the fourth period. He then added five more points in the extra frame as he and Gibson were the only two to score in overtime.
In 20 games with the Bulls, Augustin is averaging 12.3, shooting, 6.1 assists, and 1.3 steals in 29.4 minutes a game. He’s shooting 40 percent from three (38-of-95) and 90 percent on his free throws. These numbers easily trump his 10-game sample size averages in Toronto of 2.1 points and 1.0 assists in 8.2 minutes.
“I’m just happy to be part of this organization and this team,” Augustin said. “Coach has given me the opportunity to play. I’m enjoying it. I’m blessed to be here and I’m just going to keep working hard.”
There’s no questioning Hinrich’s toughness as a defender and the fact that the team runs smoothly when he’s on the floor. There’s also no questioning what Augustin has brought to a team that now sits second to last in the league in points per game (92.8), but sat last for weeks even before trading leading scorer Luol Deng earlier this month.
“We rely on scoring,” Noah said. “We need scoring and he’s been doing a good job at getting guys the right shot and scoring as well.”
With the success he’s had, teams are starting to try and take the ball out of his hands on screen and rolls, along with forcing him baseline in attempt to try and keep him out the lane and trap him. But that has only made for easier looks as his penetration and the attention he generates helps space the floor and makes for easier baskets.
Those in Indiana and Toronto in wonder at what’s helped generate the play from Augustin that hasn’t been seen since his Charlotte days, should look no further than coach Tom Thibodeau.
“I think it’s the way he carries himself and the way he approaches the game,” Augustin said. “It makes us want to approach the game the same way; with intensity and focus. When you go out there and play like that, you have no choice but to play well and do the right things. When you do the right things on the court, good things happen.”