Familiarity provides assist for Augustin

CHICAGO -- If the knock on Chicago Bulls guard D.J. Augustin has been his ability to check the opponent, why is defensive-minded coach Tom Thibodeau smiling?

After Augustin played well again Saturday in an easy 103-78 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers, Thibodeau had nothing but praise for the speedy backcourt veteran, who delivered 19 points and a team-leading eight assists in 28 reserve minutes.

“He’s a good player,” Thibodeau said. “For whatever reason he’s had some great moments, some great years in the league, then he’s had some where he’s had a lesser role, but to me he’s very smart, he can shoot, he can run the pick-and-roll and he’s done a lot of great things for our team. It was a great pickup for us.”

The Toronto Raptors had no use for the University of Texas product, who is in his sixth NBA season, and he was waived in December. The Bulls were more than happy to pounce on the free agent with Derrick Rose out for the season.

Augustin signed with the Bulls on Dec. 13 and, with a little over a month in Thibodeau’s system, he has been showing some of the potential that made him the ninth overall selection by Charlotte in the 2008 draft. The defense is still a work in progress, but the offense is carrying him for now.

“It’s just knowing what Coach wants, knowing my teammates are there helping me get better and working together, learning all the plays and feeling comfortable,” Augustin said of his solid play of late. “That’s a big part of playing the game.”

Another big part is knowing what he has to offer and focusing on that instead of trying to do too much. Augustin has always been able to take advantage of his speed, and when he shares the backcourt with fellow point guard Kirk Hinrich, the Bulls run with a potent duo.

“Especially offensively it makes us more dangerous because both can shoot, both can pass and they both can dribble,” said Carlos Boozer, who had 15 points and 13 rebounds Saturday. “They can both set up plays for our entire team. It’s fun.”

Fun has been the operative word for Augustin, who wasn’t experiencing much joy in Toronto. Putting him under Thibodeau and all those defensive schemes didn’t seem like the best fit, but so far everybody is smiling.

“He’s a tough coach,” Augustin admitted. “At the same time, he brings the best out of you as a player. He makes you play hard and confident.”

That confidence is soaring.

“I’m just going out there, playing freely, doing whatever Coach needs me to do, whatever my teammates need me to do,” Augustin said. “Basically, I’m just trying to get them the ball, trying to get them open. At the same time, Coach wanted me to look [to score] for myself.”

See, it’s not all defense all the time when it comes to Thibodeau. Augustin has scored at least 16 points in each of his past three games and has averaged 11.5 points in his 19 games with the Bulls. He has led his new team in assists 11 times and Chicago is 11-8 since his arrival.

“I knew from playing against these guys, it’s a tough team to play against, tough arena to come to,” Augustin said. “Now that I’m a part of it, I see why. We go out there every night, no matter who is on the floor, and we’re going to play hard, play defense and just fight until the end.”