Apr 9, 2019 2:49 PM ET
D.J. Augustin doesn’t have a Twitter account and he only recently joined Instagram, but still he heard the social-media whispers prior to this season that he was incapable of leading the Orlando Magic from the point guard position.
The whispers, he insists, are really nothing new to him. When he was a high school All-American in New Orleans and later Texas after being displaced by Hurricane Katrina, Augustin was told by some that he’d never star in college. After a stellar career at the University of Texas, doubters raised eyebrows when he was the No. 9 pick of the 2008 NBA Draft. Once he got to the NBA, few figured he’d last long, especially after the way he bounced from team to team early on.
Eleven NBA seasons later, the (maybe) 6-foot, (maybe) 183-pound Augustin is standing taller than ever after putting together a career year for the Magic. His steadiness, durability and superior decision-making have been driving forces behind a Magic team that is back in the playoffs for the first time since 2012. In the 41-40 Magic – owners of the NBA’s largest win-improvement total over last season (16 victories) – Augustin sees a team that, like himself, has a lot of fight and belief.
``We’ve had a lot of doubters from the beginning of the season, people doubting me and doubting the team that we had,’’ Augustin said proudly after Orlando won in Boston in dramatic fashion on Sunday to secure a spot in the playoffs. ``I’ve been proving people wrong my whole life and I know it feels good to this team to prove the whole (basketball) world wrong. Coach (Steve Clifford) has been saying it from the beginning that we could be one of the (best) stories of the league. We believed him when he said it, he set the example and we just followed his lead.’’
Clifford also set the example for how he wants the Magic to approach Wednesday’s finale in Charlotte (8 p.m. tip time) and the days leading up to the playoffs by insisting in his postgame speech on Sunday that the players should be ``thinking bigger’’ and must ``want more.’’ Clifford liked what he saw in Tuesday’s practice and he said he would go into the final game fully intent on trying to win.
Indeed, there’s plenty of motivation for the Magic to try and win. As of Tuesday morning, the Magic sit at No. 7 in the East standings, but they must win (and have Brooklyn lose to Miami) to have any hope of rising to No. 6. There’s also a path where Orlando can get to sixth if it loses on Wednesday, but Clifford doesn’t want his team considering that option.
``We had a good practice and that’s what I was anxious to see,’’ said Clifford, whose Magic have won three straight and 10 of the last 12 games. ``The biggest thing now is to have the same approach that we’ve had all year, but especially these last 30 games. Guys came in today and they were focused.’’
Augustin, 31, has been an unquestioned leader in helping to shape the Magic’s mindset with his professionalism. When he starts on Wednesday in the regular-season finale in Charlotte, it will be the second-most games he’s ever played in a season (81). His other production – 11.6 points (tied for fourth most), 5.3 assists (third most), 2.5 rebounds (second most), 46.8 percent shooting from the floor (a career best), 42 percent 3-point shooting (second best) and 87 percent free throw shooting (tied for fifth best) – speak to how he’s raised his level of play for the good of the Magic. Why, just look at what he did on Sunday against superstar guard Kyrie Irving and the Celtics – 11 points, 13 assists, seven rebounds and a steal – to pinpoint just how important he’s been at the biggest times this season.
``It hasn’t always been easy for him and a lot of his matchups are against some of the best players in this league, but he’s just a fighter who brings it every night and he’s a true pro,’’ Magic all-star center Nikola Vucevic said. ``He’s played great for us all year long, he’s been consistent, and we know that we can count on him.’’
The Magic have been able to count on Augustin this season because he’s been able to avoid many of the injuries that slowed him in the past. All five of the Magic’s starters have played in at least 75 games and their streak of 34 consecutive starts is almost unheard of in today’s NBA with team’s implementing ``load management’’ tactics. That streak will come to an end on Wednesday after forward Jonathan Isaac – who had played in a team-best 67 games in a row – was placed in the NBA’s concussion protocol following a hit to the jaw in Sunday’s win.
Wes Iwundu will start for the Magic on Wednesday in place of Isaac.
Augustin seemed to be well on his way to being a driving force on the Magic last season, helping the team to a 6-2 start before straining a hamstring on a fast break. This season, the veteran point guard has missed just one game – Dec. 31 at Charlotte because of a sprained right ankle – despite regularly getting drilled by screens and routinely hitting the floor on his forays into the lane.
Clifford said he’s had a lot of help in keeping Augustin fresh and healthy. The point guard’s minutes rose from 26.1 in October and 27.7 in November to 29.8 in December, setting off alarms with the Magic’s medical team and performance staff. Clifford pointed out that David Tenney (High Performance Director), Ernest Eugene (Heat Athletic Trainer), Luke Storey (Head Strength and Conditioning Coach), Aki Tajima (Athletic Trainer/Manual Therapist), Nathan Spencer (Performance Rehab Coach) and physical therapists Maggie Bryant and Sameer Mehta have proved invaluable this season in keeping players such as Augustin healthy.
``I give a lot of (the credit) to D.J. because he’s so professional and such a hard worker and he takes great care of himself, but David Tenney (has been important),’’ Clifford said. ``I was playing D.J. big, big minutes and he was really wearing down, but David’s great, he (evaluates) with numbers, he’s very factual and I have great faith in him. He’s helped me a lot this year (with getting players enough rest).
``A couple of weeks there (in early January) when we were on the West Coast trip, D.J. didn’t play here (in Charlotte on Dec. 31) and then I played him big, big minutes in Chicago and big minutes in Minnesota and we were practicing the next day – and D.J. never asks out – and he couldn’t even move,’’ Clifford recalled. ``David had been telling me for a couple of weeks that we had better be careful (with Augustin’s minutes). Not by a significant number, but this is where having someone of this his expertise is so important. … His thing was, `All we’ve got to do is limit (Augustin) by a little bit,’ and it made an enormous difference for him right away and it’s been a big part of him having such a great year.’’
Augustin has had arguably the greatest all-around season of his 11-year NBA career, allowing him to once again silence the doubters who have constantly questioned his abilities. Several players picked before him in that 2008 NBA Draft (Michael Beasley, O.J. Mayo and Joe Alexander) and even more selected after (Jerryd Bayless, Jason Thompson, Brandon Rush, Anthony Randolph, Roy Hibbert, J.J. Hixson and others) are now out of the league. Augustin, however, is still going strong in the NBA and he could care less about what is being said about him on social media.
``I’ve been hearing stuff my whole life, I’ve always been the smallest guy on the court, I’ve been told I wouldn’t be in the NBA, I’ve been told I wouldn’t be in college and I’ve heard it all,’’ Augustin said with pride. ``None of that ever got to me and I never listened to what people said about me because I believed in myself and my family believed in me.
``Especially in this era of social media, you can’t feed into what people say because even when you do well people are going to hate on you and say negative things,’’ he added. ``Everybody is open to their opinion and they’re free to express it on social media or however they want, but you just can’t let it get under your skin or let it affect you. I just kind of laugh at it now.’’
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