Over the coming week, the business of the NBA will pick up a gear. The Draft will take place on Wednesday and on Friday, free agency will start. Trade rumours about Chris Paul and Dennis Schroder are already flying about. In the last few days, Paul has been linked with the Suns and Sixers. The Knicks and Lakers have interest in Dennis Schroder.
It is highly likely that the ‘Three Amigos’ will not return for the 2020-21 season. Paul’s trade to Phoenix is not done yet but the chatter surrounding the deal would suggest that a trade is close. The Thunder had a lot of success with the three guard lineup in 2019-20; the lineup sliced opponents apart and it was hugely effective.
Oklahoma City performed as an elite team last season whenever the three guards were on the floor. An abundance of playmakers allowed the Thunder to break defenses and consistently get good looks. Paul and Schroder leaving would mean that the Thunder would be light on playmaking.
Free agency would be a good opportunity to pick up a steady, dependable guard who can share the floor with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and run a bench unit. Lineups with multiple playmakers provide coaches with versatility on offense and it makes a team much harder to guard.
The class of point guards in 2020 is relatively shallow in terms of top end talent. The best point guard is Goran Dragic and he is expected to sign back with the Heat. However, there are quite a few really solid backup point guards in this group. Oklahoma City should seriously look at acquiring DJ Augustin and Shabazz Napier in free agency this offseason.
Both players have enjoyed journeyman careers as backup point guards. Napier has played for the Heat, Blazers and last season he finished the season with the Washington Wizards. DJ Augustin played in Toronto, Oklahoma City and has spent the last few years with the Orlando Magic.
Height - 5’11
Weight - 183 lb
Age - 33
DJ Augustin played for the Thunder five years years ago during the Westbrook-Durant era. Augustin was decent for the Thunder in the eighteen months or so that he played in Oklahoma City. His time with the Thunder ended when he was sent to Denver in the Randy Foye trade.
Since that stint in Oklahoma, DJ Augustin has spent four years running the point for the Orlando Magic. He has been a steady hand on a tiller for a franchise that has struggled with competitiveness and identity since Dwight Howard left for Los Angeles. Augustin’s willingness to set his teammates up for looks is one of the reasons why the Magic have made the playoffs in the last two seasons.
The acquisition of Markelle Fultz changed Augustin’s role but he did not complain, Augustin continued to be the veteran presence that he is known to be. On a roster which is relatively young, DJ Augustin has been a good mentor. He goes out of his way to teach younger players how to survive in the league.
Augustin has built a reputation for being a good veteran and a leader. The Thunder are entering a rebuilding process and the roster will be relatively inexperienced. It makes a lot of sense to have a player like Augustin on the team as a mentor. Markelle Fultz benefitted hugely from Augustin’s support; DJ could perform a similar sort of role in OKC.
As a basketball player, DJ Augustin is a very reliable point guard. Augustin takes care of the ball and gets the ball to his teammates in good spots. Augustin averaged 4.6 assists per game last season off the bench.
Moreover, Augustin was not careless when he had the ball; his ball retention was very good. Augustin had an A:TO of 3.05 per game last year. That is very productive for a point guard in a reserve role. Augustin is a player who can be relied upon to run a bench effectively without errors. This will be valuable for Thunder.
One of the strengths of Augustin’s game is his floor spacing. DJ Augustin has shot 37.9% on 3PA for his entire career. Last season, Augustin shot 41.9% on all catch and shoot 3-point attempts. DJ is a dependable outside shooter and will hit from outside.
In Mark Daigneault’s opening press conference, he spoke about playing with pace and spacing the floor well. A player like Augustin would seriously help with stretching out defenses. DJ’s shooting commands gravity and this will create room inside for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to attack the defense.
Augustin does have a few weaknesses. Augustin likes to dribble the ball and he plays the game at a controlled, measured pace. His pace of play does not fit completely with how Coach Daigneault will want the Thunder to play.
Augustin does not drag out possessions for the sake of it; his decision-making on the ball is still pretty good. DJ Augustin is the type of player who likes to probe a defense before attacking a seam. He is not the kind of guy who attacks relentlessly.
Moreover, Augustin’s size means that he gets picked on defensively. Augustin is a good defender in a team setting, Augustin’s defensive rating was 104.6, but he can struggle in isolation. Augustin is a small guard and bigger guards can beat him with size.
Despite these concerns, DJ Augustin is a very good backup point guard. His creation, shooting and leadership are valuable skills for a young team. Augustin is also a former Thunder player, he will know and understand the Thunder culture. He can impart this organisational knowledge to younger players.
Height - 6’1
Weight - 175 lb
Age - 29
Shabazz Napier has bounced around the league during his short career. Napier has not had the opportunity to become comfortable at any of his previous stops. Napier has always been on the move. However, this journey has not dulled his skills. In fact, I would argue that Napier has flourished in each new environment.
Over the last six years, Napier has become a steady passer and a quality finisher close to the bucket. Napier is not a great outside shooter but he has a really good feel for the game which compensates for this weakness. He knows when to make the right play more often than not.
Napier’s 4.7 assists per game is very strong production for a player who only played 24.0 minutes per night. His per 36 numbers are a good data point when explaining his effectiveness as a passer. Napier averaged 7.0 assists per 36 which is the type of creation that comes out of a guard like Jrue Holiday.
I would not say that Shabazz is an elite creator by any means; Napier is a very good playmaker and that is more than fine for a reserve role. There are a few issues with his numbers from last year, his ball retention worsened hugely. Napier’s turnovers shot up and he averaged 2.3 turnovers per game last season.
That is not a great number but those struggles can be partially explained by his environment. Napier started the season in Minnesota with a team that was void of playmaking. He was asked to assume a heavier load than he has carried previously. When an increase in volume occurs, there will be teething issues.
Napier was then traded to Washington and he had to learn how to play in a totally different system with personnel that he was not used to. Feeling out errors and errant passes are expected in this type of situation.
His ball retention was much better when he played in a settled environment in Portland. Napier had a defined role with the Blazers and his turnovers were fairly low. I would argue that those numbers are more indicative of his performance levels.
Shabazz is a highly efficient finisher inside despite being a slight, small guard. Over the last year or so, Napier converted all looks inside of 3ft at 73.5%. Napier has become an effective scorer in this zone of the floor due to improvements in his footwork and finishing. Shabazz has become better at slithering around defenders and putting the ball in places where a defensive player cannot block.
In the past, Napier struggled to stay on the court as he would get swallowed up at the rim and his scoring would be inefficient. His improvement means that he is a nice tool to have when it comes to forcing a defense to collapse. Oklahoma City will have a lot of success with Napier going downhill and attacking.
In addition to this, Napier’s jumper has started to come around. In his season with Brooklyn, Shabazz shot around 33.3% on all 3PA. In Napier’s time with the Wizards, he shot 35.8% on threes.
Napier played twenty games with Washington and therefore this jump in efficiency cannot solely be put down to small sample size. The sample of game was more than enough for the jumper to regress to the mean. The data suggests that Shabazz Napier has improved to a league average rate.
Napier took 4.1 3PA per game with the Wizards which is a respectable volume of attempts. There could be an option for the Thunder to turn Napier into a bomber off the bench by making a slight adjustment to his shot diet.
Shabazz taking 6 3-point attempts would turn him into a player who has real gravity. The Houston Rockets have proved that a shooter can be successful at a league average if they scale the volume up. Shabazz cutting out mid-rangers and focusing on threes or layups could improve his scoring impact drastically.
Napier’s size and frame does mean that he struggles on defense. Napier is not good at containing his assignment off the dribble. He simply does not have the physical tools to match the size and speed of his opponents.
Shabazz Napier would be a good option for the Thunder off the bench. Napier's scoring and playmaking would mean that Oklahoma City would have a reliable, steady contributor running the reserves.