It's been a solid start for the Charlotte Bobcats who have won six of their last eight games, Gerald Wallace is leading the league in rebounding and starting to generate some legit and quite entertaining All-Star buzz, Stephen Jackson has really helped the Bobcat offense and even Raymond Felton seems to finally get it.
This team is winning at a playoff pace after 20 games but all is not right at the cable box, something is missing. That something is DJ Augustin, the Bobcats second year guard had an impressive rookie season, but this year his game has vanished, lost like the couch remote control. Just take a look at these numbers.
That impressive 14.90 PER from last season is now less than half at 6.77. And there isn't one single area that's down his numbers have dropped all over. His play has Larry Brown baffled, “I asked him if I'm different than I was last year, if we're asking him to do anything different than we've asked him in the past. He says no.”
Still with Stephen Jackson and Flip Murray on board DJ hasn't been on the floor with Raymond Felton as much. Felton allowed him to play off the ball but now he's mostly playing as the lead guard which Augustin admits changes things a bit, “With Ray not out there I have to get everyone involved distributing, when he's out there with me he's able to do it and I get more shots up that way.”
That last part is disturbing when you consider that Augustin didn't have a strong assist rate in his rookie year so setting up teammates hasn't been much of a strength of his at this level and he's been passing up open jumpers like Rajon Rondo despite shooting 40 percent from three and 90 percent from the free throw line last season.
It's almost like he's a different player. Larry Brown benched him for a pair of games bringing him out against Denver only to guard Nuggets speedy point guard Ty Lawson. The coach says there's plenty of areas he needs to improve on to earn his spot back, “He hasn't defended like he needs to defend, he hadn't made shots, he hasn't distributed the ball but those are all things he's capable of doing. He just has to do it.”
We would be remiss not to mention Brown's high standards for point guards. He expects the lead guard to get everyone in the right spots and make the pass to a teammate before taking your own shot. These are the immediate thoughts when you see Augustin pass up a wide open three-pointer to a teammate who's not as good a shooter. It looks like he's just thinking too much out there and that hesitancy has dropped his three-point stroke to just 27 percent and even Tyson Chandler is shooting better at the free throw line than Augustin who's connecting on only 70 percent of his trips to the line.
Augustin hasn't complained and just says he needs to stay focused and find a way to get it done but in the meantime Brown says he has options, “I have a pretty good alternative in Flip. Unfortunately Flip's not shooting the ball well now but he's getting great shots. But I don't think it's possible to play three point guards.”
Murray is just one option at Brown's disposal the other is simply playing Raymond Felton more. Felton has been far and away the best point guard for the Bobcats this season and bumping his minutes up to 40 per game or above would give Charlotte a better chance to win until Murray regains his touch or DJ finds his confidence.
The danger here is being impatient with a second year guard playing for a coach with high expectations. I've heard Brown comment about the fact that this roster is unbalanced and we've seen others speculate about trades but dealing away Augustin opens the door for plenty of criticism. I've heard insiders say that Augustin was Larry Brown's choice in the 2008 draft despite plenty of votes in the war room for Brook Lopez, and shipping him off would mean this organization would have traded or released five of their seven lottery picks. That's not how you build a contending team.
But it's a long season and there's plenty of time for things to turnaround for DJ, given his scoring and shooting ability he could really help the Bobcat offense but he has to help himself first.