In Markelle Fultz’s first game against his former team, one thing is clear: The Philadelphia 76ers could seriously use a player like D.J. Augustin.
Had Fultz not suffered from ‘thoracic outlet syndrome’ and instead lived up to his pre-draft billing as a James Harden-esque three-tier scorer, the Sixers wouldn’t have had to trade 40 percent of their starting five for Jimmy Butler. They also wouldn’t have then had to surrender even more assets for Tobias Harris/Mike Scott/Boban Marjanovic, and therefore (probably) wouldn’t have either Al Horford or Josh Richardson on the team right now.
Now one could argue which version of the Sixers is better long-term, either the post-Process quintet of Ben Simmons, Fultz, Robert Covington, Dario Saric, and Joel Embiid, or Brett Brown‘s current starting five, but after suffering an ugly loss at the hands of the Orlando Magic, I don’t want to talk about that.
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No, I’d rather spend some time talking about one of the Magic’s other guards – and no, I’m not talking about former Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams (at least not right now).
Measuring in at a scrappy 5-foot-11, 183 pounds, Augustin is a certified NBA lifer. The 9th overall pick in the 2008 NBA draft, eight spots behind eventual Rookie of the Year/MVP Derrick Rose, Augustin has played for eight different teams over his 11-year career, before seemingly finding a home in the Magic Kingdom – to the tune of a four-year, $29 million contract.
But why, you may ask, would the Sixers be better off with another position-inflexible small-ball point guard who just so happens to be a below-average defender?
Easy, he’s a veteran.
If we’re being honest, and I’d like to hope we are, neither of the 76ers backup point guards – Raul Neto and Trey Burke – are good defenders, like at all. While Augustin isn’t all that much better, he’s at least been in the league long enough to compensate for his weaknesses on the defensive side of the ball.
Fortunately for the 32-year-old New Orleans native, what he lacks in size, or defensive acumen, he more than makes up for with a complete offensive skill set.
The (I’d assume) proud owner of a 9.8 points and four assists a game stat line over 817 games, Augustin can effectively run an offense both as a primary scorer and as a primary facilitator. He’s also a more than adequate scorer both on and off the ball, as evidenced by his 49.6 percent effective field goal percentage.
Do you want some 3s? Augustin has knocked down 38 percent of his shots since entering the league, including a dank 42.0 percent over the last two seasons.
What about production around the hoop? Augustin is a career 53.4 percent shooter within three feet of the basket, all the while having to weave through a sea of trees in the paint.
And again, most importantly of all, Augustin is a certified pro. Despite shoring up the roster with a few choice veterans this offseason, Elton Brand opted against signing an older guard to fill out his backcourt – with the average age of the 76ers guards coming in at only 23.75.
Granted, is that necessarily a bad thing? No, especially with Horford locking the veteran leadership role down in the locker room, but at the same time, it’s not ideal to have both of the team’s veteran guardsman duking it out for backup minutes behind Simmons – even if it’s clearly Neto’s job to lose.
While the Sixers’ reserve production has been incredibly volatile so far this season – almost as volatile as Tobias Harris’ outside shot (somebody stop me) – they’ve also consistently lacked a reserve point guard capable of taking over games as a floor general coming off the bench. Had the team opted to target a veteran point with experience coming off the bench who could both supplement Ben Simmons or complement him – a player like D.J. Augustin’s draft classmate Derrick Rose – Brett Brown’s rotation may be much tighter at this point in the season, with enough pop to weather bad play from a starter or two (Harris, again).
But hey Philadelphia 76ers fans, don’t feel too down. If the Orlando Magic fall off down the stretch, D.J. Augustin may agree to a buyout of the final year of his contract – a move that would instantly make him the most in-demand mid-season free agent target since Marco Belinelli. One can dream, right?