The Philadelphia 76ers’ main needs for his hectic offseason are obvious: perimeter creation and shooting. Besides a potential trade for a player who addresses these areas, the Sixers’ options for adding talent will come in the NBA Draft and through minimum contracts and the taxpayer mid-level exception (worth $5.7 million) in free agency.
But even with their tight budget, there are still some cheap free agents on the market who could make a difference.
33-year-old D.J. Augustin has been a solid point guard for years, and he’s continued to be a valuable contributor for the Orlando Magic over the last few seasons. Before returning to the bench last season, playing 24.9 minutes a night, he even started 81 games for Orlando in 2018-19. That year, he averaged 11.7 points with a career-high 61.6 True Shooting Percentage, adding 5.3 assists to just 1.6 turnovers.
He had some struggles last season and his efficiency fell (39.9/34.8/89 shooting splits for a 55.4 True Shooting Percentage), but he was also bothered by a knee injury which sidelined him for a month at the start of the year. Playing in Orlando’s 23rd-ranked offense didn’t exactly help either. Moving forward with better health on his side, Augustin should benefit from some positive regression.
Augustin ticks a lot of boxes for what the Sixers need. First off, he’s a reliable playmaker. Even though he won’t be breaking down many defenders in isolation, he’s composed, reads the floor well, and can be used as a sound pick-and-roll ball-handler. He knows how to change pace and keep his dribble alive until rollers or shooters get open. And with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.05 (4.6 assists to 1.5 turnovers), he continued securing the ball at a high level.
Augustin’s playmaking chops are accompanied by a trusty three-pointer as well — he’s shot 37.9 percent from deep for his career, including 42 percent on 5.2 attempts per 36 minutes through 2017-18 and 2018-19. Add in his ability to fire a bit off the dribble, with a 36.9 percent mark on 382 pull-up threes over the last three years, and he’s a fairly crafty pick-and-roll player. Plays as a pick-and-roll ball-handler have often made up a huge chunk of his possessions, including 53.8 percent last season which ranked 2nd in the NBA. He’s been efficient, too. Augustin ranked in the 73rd percentile last season, the 81st in 2018-19, and the 90th in 2017-18.
The Sixers should be ramping up their pick-and-roll usage under new head coach Doc Rivers, and Augustin would help. Unlike most of the Sixers’ roster last season, Augustin actually poses some threat to pull up off the bounce when working with ball screens, which forces defenders to go over and respect his shot. With the ability to set up roll men, make dump-off passes, or hit open shooters, he has enough passing talent to beat shifting defenses once they’re a step behind him.
On defense, Augustin is smart enough to generally be in the right spots, but at 5’11” without much strength, length, or stellar quickness on his side, he’s a weakness. The same physical limitations can hurt him on offense when it comes to driving and finishing at the rim. Despite having some craftiness as a driver, he isn’t as fast as he used to be, and lacks the bounce and length to extend past defenders at times. He’s best doing most of his damage as a scorer from behind the arc, where he took 43.6 percent of all his shots last season.
The Sixers can’t ask for too much with their budget, though. And with plenty of strong defensive personnel across the roster, Augustin’s flaws aren’t enough of a concern to take away from the value he’d provide as a ball-handler. The downside is that quite a few teams will likely have interest in signing Augustin, which could end up increasing his price slightly past the Sixers’ taxpayer MLE range.
Ultimately, like anyone the Sixers might be able to afford in free agency, Augustin has limitations. But to provide some much needed playmaking, pull-up shooting, and effective pick-and-roll play for Rivers’ new offense, Philly should do what they can to sign him. Out of all the backup point guards they could feasibly target for the taxpayer MLE, he’s their best option.