It was earlier this season, and New Orleanian D.J. Augustin was with the Toronto Raptors, getting scant playing time.
In his sixth season in the NBA after being the ninth overall pick in 2008 from Texas, Augustin wondered about his future in the league.
“Toronto didn’t fit me and didn’t fit my style of play,” said Augustin, who led Brother Martin High School to state championships in 2004 and 2005. “It was more pass, cut and a lot of transition stuff. But I just didn’t get an opportunity there, and of course you wonder about things when you’re not playing.”
Then came the Rudy Gay trade with the Sacramento Kings on Dec. 9, and Augustin, who had played the previous year with Indiana, was waived. That proved to be the best thing to happen for him since playing his first four seasons with the Charlotte Bobcats.
Chicago Bulls All-Star point guard Derrick Rose experienced the second serious knee injury of his career, then backup Kirk Hinrich injured a hamstring. The Bulls signed Augustin on Dec. 13, and it has worked as one of the steals of the season thus far.
With the New Orleans Pelicans (19-26) set to play the Bulls (23-22) on Saturday at New Orleans Arena, Augustin has averaged 13.6 points and 6.0 rebounds in 25 games. More important, in his past eight, in which he has been the starter, he has averaged 20.3 points on 50 percent shooting, including 53.6 percent on 3-point shots and 5.1 assists. During a recent five-game stretch, he had two games of 27 points and one of 28.
The Bulls, who won at San Antonio on Wednesday night, are 11-4 in January and have won five of their past seven.
“I remember when he was in Charlotte, and I was coaching against him,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “I thought he was hard to guard in certain situations. So, I knew he had the capabilities of playing well.”
Augustin has flourished because a large part of the Bulls’ offense revolves around the pick and roll.
“I’ve been a great pick-and-roll player since college, just knowing how to use my pace and stuff like that,” he said. “We run a lot of pick-and-roll stuff fore me, and it’s been working.”
Where Rose is one of the best in the league at driving to the basket, Thibodeau said Augustin’s ability to shoot from outside has been key to his success in Chicago. And, his experience as an NBA point guard has helped the team pick up the pace and climb to the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Thibodeau said the transition with Augustin has been seamless.
“Well, he’s smart, and he picks up things very quickly,” Thibodeau said. “He’s done it on the fly. And now, what he’s also done is run the team very, very well.”
Augustin said upon coming to the Bulls, Thibodeau told him to be ready to work hard and play defense and everything else will work out.
“He’s a defensive coach,” Augustin said. “I try to pressure the ball, keep my guy in front of me and do all of the little things. We have great big men in (center) Joakim (Noah) and (power forward Carlos) Boozer, who can clean things up (when mistakes are made), block shots and things like that.”
The Bulls’ big men are a main concern to the Pelicans, coach Monty Williams said. Noah, who was added to the Eastern Conference All-Star team on Thursday as a reserve, has been an excellent defensive player his entire career. This season, he is averaging 11.4 rebounds and 4.2 assists, slightly up from last season but both career highs.
“Their bigs are really good inside,” Williams said. “(Backup power forward) Taj Gibson has really improved his game, and D.J. Augustin has been a big addition for them.”
Pelicans second-year power forward Anthony Davis said he was disappointed about not being picked as one of seven reserves to the Western Conference All-Star team. “It’s tough,” he said. “The coaches voted, I didn’t get in. End of story.” Davis still can get added to the team by Commissioner Adam Silver as a replacement for injured Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant when Bryant is officially designated as injured for the game, which is Feb. 16 at the Arena. … Davis sat out the previous game, a loss at Minnesota on Wednesday night after dislocating his index finger in the previous game at Cleveland. He said he will play against Chicago, his hometown team. … Center Jason Smith had surgery in New York this past week to remove loose cartilage from his right knee. Recovering and rehab is expected to take three to four weeks.