CHICAGO – The return of point guard D.J. Augustin to game action on Wednesday night was a welcomed sight for the Orlando Magic, a team that relies heavily on their smallest player on the roster.
The 6-foot, 183-pound Augustin, who returned on Wednesday following a one-game absence due to a sprained right ankle, has one of Orlando’s most impactful players this season. That was easy to see in Monday's game that Augustin missed – a 125-100 defeat to the Charlotte Hornets – but advanced analytics lend even more credence to the Magic being an entirely different team when Augustin is on the floor.
The Magic’s offensive rating is 13.1 points per 100 possessions better when Augustin is on the floor (108.5) as opposed to when he’s off it (95.4). Defensively, the Magic are better when he’s on the floor (105.4 points allowed per 100 possessions) than when he’s off (107.4). His overall net rating (15.1 points per 100 possessions) ranks second on the team only to that of Vucevic (16.9).
While some might be surprised by that and scoffed at the idea of Augustin being the Magic’s full-time starter prior to the season beginning, Magic coach Steve Clifford expected a breakout season from the veteran point guard. Clifford did his homework on Augustin in the offseason, calling around to head coaches who had coached Augustin in the past. Their reviews were extremely favorable, letting Clifford know that the Magic had a point guard that they could count on.
``The three guys who I spoke to that had coached him – Stan (Van Gundy), Adam (Glessner) and (Tom Thibodeau) had him and there was (former) coach (Paul) Silas, who I talked to a lot and got close with in Charlotte, and they all said the same thing,’’ Clifford said. ``They said, `Listen, you’re going to love having him around, he’s a (basketball) junkie, he knows how to play and there’s purpose of play when he’s out on the floor.’’
Augustin, an 11-year veteran, came into averaging 11.5 points and a 4.9 assists a game. Also, he leads the team in 3-point shooting (43.8 percent) and free throw shooting (90.4) and his assist-to-turnover ratio is 3.51:1. Augustin’s impact on the Magic actually extends well beyond what the numbers show with his organizational skills and calming effect on the team’s younger players.
``I just take pride in being on the floor and playing the right way,’’ Augustin said. ``Taking good shots and controlling the game – those are the types of things I take pride in,’’ Augustin said. ``I don’t really pay attention to the other things, but I take pride in doing what I can to help my team.’’
SOARING HIGH: Magic center Mo Bamba knew he went high into the air to swat a shot by Hornets’ guard Malik Monk in Monday’s game in Charlotte, but he didn’t know just how high he reached until he saw slow-motion footage of the play a day later.
As Monk drove to his right against Magic forward Wes Iwundu, Bamba left his man and went high into the air for a block that he initially thought he’d never be able to reach. However, Bamba used every bit of his expansive, record-setting wingspan – measured at 7 feet, 10 inches – to slap the shot away. Slow motion replays showed Bamba’s reach extending above the box above the rim and some four-to-five inches from the top of the backboard.
``I knew I was high, but I didn’t know I was that high until I saw the replay,’’ Bamba said. ``I haven’t been up that high since last season at Texas when I had a dunk (against Virginia Commonwealth).’’
While many of Charlotte’s players, coached and fans argued that there should have been a goal-tending call, none was whistled. As it turns out, Bamba said, it was the correct no-call.
``I thought they were going to call it, but when you see the replay it wasn’t (goaltending),’’ he said with a playful laugh.
SIMMONS STILL SUFFERING: For a second time in as many weeks, Magic guard Jonathon Simmons found himself on the sidelines when Orlando played in Chicago.
Two weeks ago, it was a sprained right ankle that kept Simmons out of action. On Wednesday, it was a sprained left ankle that had Simmons frustratingly out once again.
``Man, I just can’t catch a break right now with these ankles,’’ Simmons said following his team’s morning shoot-around session. He has now missed five games – one with a wrist injury, one with the right ankle sprain, two with a left ankle sprain and one because of a death in the family.
Simmons’ ankle injury was initially deemed to not be a severe one, but it has since worsened. While Simmons could get some work when the Magic practice on Thursday in Minnesota, he likely won’t be fully cleared for contact until the weekend at the earliest.
Simmons sprained his ankle when he was backing up and trying to avoid a screen set by Zaza Pachulia. However, he backed right into Pachulia’s foot, causing his ankle to buckle and twist.
The latest ankle injury came at a time when Simmons had been promoted to back-up point guard behind Augustin and his production was starting to pick up following a slow start because of offseason surgery to his right wrist. Simmons had six assists and four rebounds in his first game at point guard and he scored seven points in nine minutes on Monday prior to suffering the latest injury that shelved him.
UP NEXT: The Magic’s six-game, 11-night road trip continues on Friday when they play the Minnesota Timberwolves for the first time this season.
Minnesota is one of just seven teams in the NBA that Orlando has yet to face this season. Brooklyn and Atlanta are the only teams from the Eastern Conference that the Magic have yet to face, while meetings still loom against Western Conference teams Houston, Memphis, New Orleans, Oklahoma City and Minnesota.
After playing in Minnesota on Friday, the Magic face the Los Angeles Clippers (Sunday), Sacramento (Monday) and Utah (Wednesday). According to research by the Magic’s PR staff, this is the first trip in the 30-year history of the franchise where the Magic will play games in all four U.S. time zones.
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