On January 24th in a game against the Milwaukee Bucks, Detroit Pistons point guard Brandon Jennings crumpled to the floor tearing his achilles and ending his season.
Backup point guard from Texas D.J. Augustin immediately stepped in and has started the last 8 games for the Pistons logging over 35 minutes per game. While Augustin has been fantasy relevant before during his time in Charlotte as a starter and as a key backup last year for the Bulls, he has never touched fantasy stardom.
Since the injury to Brandon Jennings, however, he's put up a star-like line of 20.4 points, 8.9 assists, 0.9 steals, and 2.0 threes on 49% shooting and 95% from the line. Due to his track record, many people believe this to be a hot streak and expect his production to be similar to his Charlotte days.
Is there any chance, though, that there is more to this hot streak than meets the eye? Let's find out.
Pistons' Changes Make Early Season Stats Nearly Irrelevant
Since they released Josh Smith on December 22, the Pistons have put up a 15-8 record compared to a 5-23 mark before his release. Among their major improvements since Smith's release, the Pistons have increased their rebounding percentage and shooting percentages across the board.
With Smith off the court, the Pistons' grab 52.2% of total rebounds (+4.4% margin) compared to 48% with him on the court (-4.0% margin). In addition, they have put up FG, FT, and 3P percentages of 44.7, 35.8, and 72.4 respectively compared to 41.3, 33.0. 69.4 respectively before the release.
Normally, the best tool we would have for predicting Augustin's potential performance would be to analyze all of the previous games he's started for the Pistons including the 3 games he started in November in which he put up much more modest numbers. Considering their track record since the Josh Smith release and the personnel that Augustin is currently playing with, however, are those 3 games in November really relevant? I would say not very.
As further evidence that we should put low weight on Augustin's 3 November starts when predicting his future performance, consider that Augustin's most likely pass target, by far, receiving over 45% of his total passes in those games was Josh Smith who was shooting less than 40% from the field making it tougher for Augustin to rack up assists. In addition, the ball simply wasn't moving as smoothly on offense and, as a result, 75% of Augustin's baskets were unassisted and 44% of his field goal attempts were pull up jumpers compared to 66% unassisted and 30% pull up jumpers in his past 8 starts.
The point is, basically, that Augustin played with different personnel and in an offense that was functioning less efficiently in November than it is now. For that reason, we shouldn't expect a regression to those types of numbers simply because of his performance in the past and his per-36 numbers as a backup. We need to set new expectations considering the state of the Pistons and Augustin's role as they currently are. Now, let's look at where this newfound success is coming from and how much of it we can expect to be sustainable.
Improved Ball Movement, More Shots At Rim Lead To More Efficient Scoring
As I mentioned, in his November starts Augustin's favorite pass target by a wide margin was Josh Smith. In his recent starts, Greg Monroe, a much more efficient shooter, has taken over that honor and Augustin has also spread the ball around much more as Monroe has received just 24% of his total passes while Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Kyle Singler have each received 19%. This type of ball movement has allowed more players to get involved in the offense and has also given Augustin more space to get to the rim. Before Jennings' injury, about 48% of Augustin's shots came from the paint and he hit them at a 46.8% rate. After the injury, 58% of his shots have come from the paint and he's making 52.4% of them.
While Augustin's 46% clip from beyond the arc over the last 8 games is far beyond his career rate and unsustainable, it's not the only reason for his offensive surge. As long as the Pistons continue to move the ball efficiently and Augustin takes advantage of the improved spacing, we should expect a slight improvement in field goal percentage and assist rate compared to his numbers as a backup.
Brandon Jennings isn't walking through that door anytime soon and the Pistons only young point guard waiting in the wings, Spencer Dinwiddie, does not appear ready for the NBA, so it seems like Augustin is in line for minutes in the mid-thirties for the remainder of the season. Augustin is taking slightly more shots per minute since becoming a starter at 13.9 per 36 compared to 12.3 per 36 beforehand which could be a result of him simply shooting more when he sees shots falling and is also thrown off a bit by a 20 shot performance on January 25th against Toronto. I think that, as he cools off from beyond the arc, he'll drift back closer to that 12.3 mark. His assist rate has also taken a jump from 7.1 to 9.1 per 36 since January 25th.
I think this is mainly due to playing with more efficient teammates as the Pistons' team field goal percentage and assist percentage have only modestly increased since he took the reigns. While he has only put up 6 assists per 36 for his career, he did put up 7.8 per 36 during his final season in Charlotte and this team is much, much better than that one. His three point percentage will have to go down eventually, but nearly 70% of his threes are either “open” or “wide open”, so the offense is giving him plenty of opportunities. Considering he shot 41% from deep in Chicago last year, I think he can approach 40% for the rest of this year. In terms of everything else, his steals have been right on pace with his career rate, he's always been a knock down free throw shooter, and he doesn't get enough rebounds or blocks for those to be relevant.
Finally, with more responsibility on offense comes more turnovers. I'm thinking he'll come in higher than his career rate of 2.3 per 36 and hover closer to 3. With all of that explanation out of the way, let's look at the projected line.
D.J. Augustin's projected overall 9-cat ROS line
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