It has looked like the Raptors backup point guard spot has been D.J. Augustin’s to lose since Toronto signed him as a free agent earlier this summer. Augustin is a 5-year veteran with 146 NBA starts under his belt and was the backup point guard on the Eastern Conference Finals Pacers last season. However, Head Coach Dwane Casey has been adamant that the backup spot to starter Kyle Lowry was wide-open and neither Julyan Stone, Dwight Buycks nor Augustin have done anything to change his mind yet.
Although Augustin hasn’t played the most minutes at backup point guard during preseason (96), that honor gone to the rookie Buycks (126), Augustin has consistently been the first point guard off the bench in the first half. It appears Casey wants his young veteran to get used to this spot in the rotation.
“(Casey) just wants me to be aggressive and play free instead of trying to get adjusted to everything with the group of guys that I am out there with,” Augustin said. “It takes time, but that is what preseason is for. I am just trying to get better.”
Casey has shown a lot of patience with Augustin and his supposed second group of players off the bench even though they sometimes seemed to lack focus and didn’t quite have the defensive schemes down yet. Augustin and Tyler Hansbrough are both new to the team, so this group hasn’t played together before and they have been going through a fairly steep learning curve.
“It is an adjustment whenever you come to a new team, but the more you play, the more comfortable you get,” Augustin said. “The more you play with that group of guys, the more comfortable you get with each other and as time goes on we will get more comfortable with each other.
“It is hard (to learn new schemes), but that is what practice is for and preseason is for right now. We are trying to get that gel, that glue going and get our defense going and I think we’ll get it once the season starts.”
As was bluntly illustrated in the game against Memphis, a lot of players are sore and have nagging injuries as a result of training camp and a rigorous preseason schedule. Augustin admitted he is feeling the effects himself and is playing on sore knees, possibly explaining why Casey hasn’t been running Augustin out there for extended minutes in the second half of games.
“It’s tough. Right now a lot of guys are sore,” Augustin said. “I am having a little trouble with my knees, but that is what treatment is for. That is what the extra things taking care of your body are for, you just get used to it and you just have to fight through it.”
This is Augustin’s sixth NBA training camp with his third NBA team, so he is used to the grind and he knows what to expect once the regular season starts. That is the advantage Augustin has over the rookie Buycks, Augustin knows the rookie hasn’t seen anything yet and remembers the shock of his own first NBA regular season game.
“It was different. It was like a real shock,” Augustin said. “Once the season starts, teams play different lineups. In preseason, teams give other guys a chance to play, but once the season starts, the real guys are going to be out there. It is a shock, it is a difference, you have to come ready to play every day.
“There is definitely a different intensity once the season really starts and you have to come with it every night because you want to win. Once the season starts everything counts. At the same time, right now you want to take everything seriously, even though nothing counts and it is preseason. You want to get better.”
There should be no doubt that Casey knows this too. Augustin’s real competition for minutes early in the season is more likely to come from Julyan Stone because he has at least some NBA experience under his belt and will not have to go through the same adjustment as a rookie. However, though 7 preseason games, Casey still hasn’t shown any signs of changing up his preseason rotation to bump Augustin off his first point guard off the bench position and Augustin says he’s ready to start the real season.
“Once the season starts against Boston, I think I’ll be ready,” Augustin said. “I think everybody will be ready. We are all on the same page and want to get better and are taking these preseason games to get better.”
The backup point guard spot was Augustin’s to lose from the start and while he hasn’t done anything to wow the coaching staff or the fans during preseason, no one has taken it from him either. Augustin is like the sure thing. Casey has good reason to believe he knows what Augustin will do for him each night. If the other two guards want those minutes, they need to come out and take them from him.