Pistons confident SVG’s structure will allow Augustin to thrive

D.J. Augustin sees the right mix of players and the right coach and feels like he’s found the right NBA situation for him.
Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

Only Stan Van Gundy and his cabinet know how close the Pistons came to nailing their every objective in his first foray into the free-agent market, but it’s probably fair to guess he did better than expected in his search for a backup point guard.

Van Gundy said as much when the Pistons introduced D.J. Augustin to the public a few weeks ago.

“We were, quite honestly, surprised to have the chance we did to bring D.J. here and very, very excited about it,” Van Gundy said. “I think he fits very well with the way we’re going to want to play.”

Augustin, 26, seemed adrift after bouncing from Charlotte to Indiana to Toronto, where he was buried so far on the depth chart that when the Raptors faced a roster crunch after dealing Rudy Gay to Sacramento and taking back more players in return, Augustin was waived to enable Toronto to get down to the 15-man roster limit. It turned out to be his big break, landing with Chicago in the wake of Derrick Rose’s season-ending knee injury and putting up career numbers.

In 61 games, mostly coming off the bench behind Kirk Hinrich, Augustin averaged 14.9 points and 5.0 assists in 30 minutes while shooting 41 percent from the 3-point line and taking nearly half of his shots from the arc. If teams weren’t quite sure what to make of that mid-career turnaround as Augustin hit free agency, perhaps the Pistons had fewer questions than most based on the parallels Van Gundy might have seen between the structure he’ll impose and the one Augustin experienced in Chicago under Tom Thibodeau.

“One thing that was demonstrated last year in the end-of-season performance was the fact he thrived within a system,” Pistons general manager Jeff Bower told me recently. “That was something that came through in past discussions with other people around him. He really flourished when he was put into an offensive system and understood the spacing and the ground rules, so to speak. We felt that he’s got an ability to execute that is magnified when there is a structure within the game.”

“When I got to Chicago, coach Thibs gave me an opportunity to play and play a lot of minutes,” Augustin said. “I don’t care how talented you are, if you’re not playing a certain amount of minutes every game, you’re not going to play as well. Just getting the opportunity to play and just feel comfortable and actually getting into a system that fits, it felt good. I feel I have a chance to do that here.”

Van Gundy and Bower have talked about the importance of competitive practices to reshape the dynamic of Pistons culture. With Brandon Jennings and Will Bynum in addition to Augustin all capable of playing significant minutes at point guard, the competition at that position in training camp should set the tone. Jennings returns as the incumbent starter, but both Augustin and Bynum’s proven survival instincts mean they aren’t likely to shrink from the challenge.

The fact Augustin was able to play at such a high level in Chicago after losing his job with Toronto said something to the Pistons about him. As they dug a little deeper into Augustin before free agency, they heard things that reinforced what they already suspected they knew about him.

“Outstanding young man with a thought process that he’s willing to do what teams need,” Bower said. “He’s a successful teammate and he comes from a background of overcoming odds and of being able to move ahead through hardship. The savvy he has as a player, the resilience and relentlessness he’s shown over his early years in the league, his ability to play effectively at a style that could blend with our players – whether it’s blending with an Andre Drummond inside in a pick-and-roll game or creating in catch-and-shoot situations for our shooters now – those things that he does well are elements we felt would be a good balance at the position and to our team.”