2008. Sam Vincent’s "Reign of Error" was mercifully limited to one season, and he was promptly shown the door by future owner, Michael Jordan. In comes the guy His Airness wanted to begin with, Larry Brown. With Rod Higgins holding steady as the General Manager, the first major order of business was the 2008 NBA draft.
As is the customary pre-draft process, experts, sports writers, and fans alike poured over all the possibilities with mock drafts, potential trades, potential busts & sleepers, and so on. There was a general consensus that the Charlotte Bobcats needed a dominant force at center more than anything else. All signs pointed to Stanford’s Brook Lopez being just the man for the job. Although Brook chose not to participate in any Charlotte workouts, both Jordan and Higgins were sold, and were prepared to select him with the 9th pick if he was still available. They reportedly even told his agent as much. There was only one problem with this plan:
Brown wanted a point guard.
Was Raymond Felton chopped liver? He averaged 14 points, 7 assists, 1.5 steals, and nearly 3 turnovers a game in the previous season. Certainly, those weren’t all-star numbers, but it was decent for a starting NBA guard. So, what was it about a point guard whose numbers improved every year in the league that left the new coach wanting more? Some would point to Ray-Ray’s poor shooting percentage; he was a shade under .400 in his first 3 seasons, which is not ideal for a starting NBA guard (or a starter at any position, for that matter). Maybe it was, more specifically, Ray’s even poorer 3 point percentage (.327), or the fact that he took so many (783) in his first 3 seasons. Perhaps it was the rather steep drop-off in roster talent to back up Raymond (Jeff McInnis, anyone?). Or was it was a subtle “F-U” to Brook for refusing to grace the city of Charlotte with his pre-draft presence? Whatever the case, Larry wanted a point guard, and Jordan & Higgins respected the HoFer enough to concede to his wishes. So, with the 9th pick of the 2008 draft, Brook Lopez’s jaw dropped (along with a few tears, allegedly), and D.J. walked to the stage to shake
Palpatine’s Stern’s hand, and accept the complimentary Bobcats baseball cap.
Brook’s jaw wasn’t the only one that dropped in astonishment, though. A vast majority of the Charlotte fanbase was irate with the team’s draft choice, all but dismissing Augustin as the latest Epic Fail in the long line of mishandled draft picks for the franchise. In response, D.J. quietly went about his business, and had a very promising rookie season. Amongst rookies, he had the best free throw percentage, 3rd best ATT ratio, 8th best scoring, and 13th best in steals. Not too shabby, right? It really wasn’t so terrible of a draft pick after all, right?
Unfortunately, the dreaded “Sophomore Curse” proved to be more than a cliché for D.J., and all the naysayers still pining over Brook Lopez came out in droves as Augustin’s numbers dropped in every category except DNP-CDs. An abdominal injury even chipped in to take away some of D.J.s blazing speed, rendering him quite ordinary by most NBA standards, and certainly not worthy of a top 10 draft pick. Trade rumors began circling around D.J.s head like buzzards above not-so-fresh roadkill. To add fuel to the fire, Raymond Felton had what was easily his best season as a NBA player (especially from a shooting standpoint), and became the perfect conduit for Larry Brown on the court. In that same breath, D.J. was a consistent target of Brown’s criticism, to the point that some wondered if D.J. would ever recover from this perfect storm of slumps, injuries, decreased playing time, and good ole fashioned verbal lashings.
Fast forward to the 1st round of the 2010 playoffs. Raymond Felton, just a week or so removed from his best season as a pro, is utterly dismantled by the Magic’s Jameer Nelson on the way to an Orlando sweep. Charlotte’s first playoff run was a short one.
Despite Felton being clearly outclassed in the postseason, his value did not depreciate in his or his agent’s opinion. The Charlotte Front Office thought otherwise, and Felton left for greener pastures. That meant… * gasp * …D.J. is our starting point guard by default! We had to get a “real” starting PG on the roster ASAP! T.J. Ford? Jose Calderon? Chris Paul? Devin Harris? Andre Miller? Gilbert Arenas? Monta Ellis? If I’m not mistaken, there were inquiries made on all of these players, plus a few that I’m probably forgetting, and maybe even more that was never made public. For one reason or another, none of those deals took place, so let’s bring in Livingston, who had a horrible injury years ago, but will probably be healthy enough to win the starting role over D.J., who we’ll trade for a decent center at the blink of an eye. Sounds like a plan, yes?
So far, in this very early season, D.J.’s ATT ratio is 2nd best in the league, behind only Chris Paul. Mr. Augustin is 6th overall in free throw percentage. Now, D.J.’s biggest knock has always been his defense, or lack thereof. Opposing point guards against Charlotte this season are a combined 43% shooting, 35% in 3s, 13.5 ppg, 2.1 TOs, and 8.3 assists. D.J. is a shade behind with a 40% shooting percentage, 41% in 3s, 12.5 ppg, 1.6 TOs, and 7.5 assists. Please note I'm not lost on the fact that D.J. wasn’t always the one guarding the other team’s PG, and vice versa. I really just wanted to point out that in light of whatever defensive liability he may or may not be on the court, he is holding his own when the ball is in his hands.
D.J. is Larry Brown’s point guard. Not Raymond (who Larry still waxes poetic about to this day whenever his name comes up). Not Livingston (who, btw, is one hell of a backup PG in my estimation, and seems to have regained as much of his quickness & athleticism as humanly possible following his rehab). It is D.J., the man who Larry Brown did everything short of mentally scar for life last year, running this team, and I personally think he has barely scratched the surface of how good he will become.
Update: I read Rick Bonnell's latest article last night, who gave D.J. some props as well. Bonnell usually calls it right down the middle, and he even noted that he's been sour on Augustin in the not-too-distant past, so it was cool to see him give Nacho some kudos here. My favorite line: "D.J.’s biggest problem is he doesn’t understand how good he could be."
2nd update: As of this morning, November 16th, 2010, D.J. Augustin currently has the best Assist-to-Turnover ratio in the league. Take a bow, sir.