By John Denton
Feb. 9, 2018
– Watch the basketball leave the fingertips of Orlando Magic point guard D.J. Augustin and it looks like a clip out of some sort of how-to instructional video.
The channels of the basketball are usually aligned so perfectly in his hands that Augustin could examine the pimpled, orange leather for NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s signature if he so wanted. The backspin on the shot rotates crisply and perfectly so as to keep the ball on line with the hoop, all the while making the black lines on the orange sphere blur like hash marks on a highway. And that towering arc – one that the 6-foot-(maybe) Augustin learned years ago to get it over much-taller defenders – allows shots to sail through the rim and splash perfectly into the net.
That release, rotation and splash has allowed Augustin to shoot 40.1 percent from 3-point range this season for the Magic and 37.3 percent beyond the arc throughout his 10-year NBA career. It’s a shot that Orlando (18-36) has relied heavily on during a recent hot stretch, particularly during its first three-game winning streak since October. Going forward, the Magic hope that Augustin can continue to give them a deep threat from the point guard position what with him anointed as the starter following Elfrid Payton being traded to the Phoenix Suns.
Understandably, Augustin is somewhat sheepish talking about a shot he’s worked to develop since he was nine years old. That form, that release and that backspin have not only helped thrive in basketball, but they have also earned him loads of praise from admirers.
``A lot of people like the way the ball spins and I like it too, and that’s why I started doing it,’’ said Augustin, whose Magic (18-36) face the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday at the Amway Center. ``It’s something I’ve always worked on, it’s something I’ve always wanted, and it came together at one time for me.’’
Augustin’s shooting has been especially on the mark of late as he’s made 41 percent of his tries over the past nine games – shots that have played a major role in Orlando getting wins over Boston, Cleveland, Miami, Minnesota, Atlanta and the Los Angeles Lakers of late. Starting in place of the departed Payton on Thursday, Augustin scored 18 points, drilled two 3-pointers and handed out nine assists as the Magic pulled away just enough late from the Hawks for a 100-98 victory.
Augustin’s shot has earned him plenty of admirers in his two seasons in Orlando – this one (8.8 ppg., 3.2 apg., 40.1 percent 3-point shooting) significantly more productive than last year (7.9 ppg., 2.7 apg., 34.7 percent 3-point shooting). Augustin’s balanced shot, perfect spin and high arc has made Magic head coach Frank Vogel swoon, it’s cost Aaron Gordon gobs of money and it’s left many opponents muttering to themselves.
``It’s perfect, and pretty unbelievable how he does that,’’ Vogel vowed, referring to Augustin’s release with backspin. ``He’s a seam shooter, which is not always easy to do, but if you are raised that way you know how to adjust the ball in your hands. It always comes off clean.’’
Then, there’s this from Gordon, someone who has worked hard on his own shot to better his stroke from 3-point range. He’s tried replicating Augustin’s form and release and he’s attempted to take the veteran down in shooting contests, but that venture has proven to be a very costly one for him.
``He’s an incredible shooter,’’ Gordon gushed. ``I was betting him during shooting competitions during shootaround and I had to stop doing that because I was losing my paycheck, man. He’s a helluva shooter and always has been, really. … That’s a pretty shot.’’
On Thursday against Atlanta, another part of Augustin’s game – his cat-quick, cross-over dribble – earned him another kind of praise. After crossing over Atlanta forward Tauren Prince and making him fall to the ground, he approached Augustin during a break in the action and asked, `Do you think that will be on ESPN?’ Said Augustin with a laugh: ``I’ve never had that before.’’
The Magic are hopeful that Augustin’s ability to knock down 3-point shots from the point guard position will give them another weapon to stretch opposing defenses. If they have to honor Augustin’s shot, it creates bigger driving lanes for Evan Fournier, Jonathon Simmons, Mario Hezonja and eventually Gordon, who is nearing a return, but will miss his seventh straight game on Saturday because of a hip strain.
If defenders help down inside on cutters or big-man rollers, Augustin can hurt them with that deadly stroke from 3-point range. This season, he’s made four 3-pointers in a game twice, three in a game five times and he has 19 games total with multiple 3-point makes.
``Shooting helps a lot and in a lot of ways,’’ Vogel said. ``You have to go over screens and that allows you to get more penetration. And then, when (Augustin) is off the basketball, everybody is going to have more space to go to work because they’re not leaving him. So, he definitely gives us a nice threat out there.’’
Augustin, who has shot better than 40 percent from 3-point range four times in his career, ranks 30th overall in the NBA in 3-point percentage this season, but he’s sixth among point guards from deep.
Featuring what Vogel calls ``pop-up shooters,’’ many teams now rely heavily on point guards in pick-and-roll sets coming off screens, reading the sagging defense and drilling 3-point shots out of those scenarios. Whether it’s been Kyrie Irving, Russell Westbrook, Kemba Walker, Damian Lillard, John Wall or – more recently James Harden, Garrett Temple, Bradley Beal, Tomas Satoransky – the Magic have been repeatedly burned. Now, they have a counter of their own in Augustin.
``Most of the time, teams don’t go under (the screen) on me, so (the defender) trails me and that gives me the chance to drive or find the big men for drop-off passes, find other guys or score myself,’’ Augustin said. ``But if they do go (under), I’m going to stop behind the screen and shoot it. Frank gives me the green light to do that and I’m going to do it.
``Being able to shoot as a guard is big in the NBA and it hurts the defense.’’
Magic President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman, who made the decision to move on from Payton and trade him to the Suns, echoed those sentiments late Thursday night, saying that the ability to knock down 3-point shots will be something the franchise covets in point guards going forward. Mike Budenholzer, whose Hawks were beaten by the Magic on Thursday, pointed out how much more difficult it is to guard opposing teams when the point guard is a threat to come off screens and bury 3-point shots. For years, Budenholzer would have his Hawks back off Payton and attempt to coax him into 3-point attempts because of his shaky shot.
No longer can teams do that with Augustin moving up into the Magic’s starting guard role. It’s an opportunity that he hopes to take advantage of with his pinpoint preparation and that textbook jump shot.
``I’ve started before, I’ve been a back-up before, I’ve been benched, traded and cut. I’ve been everything, so I know how to handle myself and be ready at all times,’’ said Augustin, who has played for eight NBA franchises. ``That’s something I pride myself on – being ready to do whatever I need to do to help my team win.’’
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