Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Remembering Augustin, AAU version

As the Charlotte Bobcats prepare for rookie first-round pick D.J. Augustin’s scheduled summer league debut Saturday in Las Vegas, I’m reminded of the first time I saw Augustin play in person.

Augustin wasn’t the marquee guy on the New Orleans Jazz AAU team in 2004. That distinction fell to forward Tasmin Mitchell, a forward who was rated the top prospect in his class for a while by some respected recruiting analysts.

Mitchell was solid, but not spectacular. (He started the first 71 games of his career at LSU before suffering a season-ending ankle injury as a junior last November).

Augustin was electrifying as he propelled the Jazz into the finals at the Bob Gibbons Tournament of Champions. The Jazz fell to the Spiece Indy Heat and a decent center named Greg Oden in the championship game.

Though Augustin didn’t get a championship plaque, he demonstrated an uncanny ability to get into the lane for acrobatic finishes over much taller players. He fed teammates for easy baskets and played with an energy that was infectious.

I hadn’t heard of Augustin before the tournament. By the end, he was obviously one of the tournament’s most impressive players. (He also was considered Wake Forest before choosing to play for Rick Barnes at Texas).

There is a big difference between excelling in an AAU tournament and becoming a top-rate NBA point guard. Having watched in person as gritty Raymond Felton led North Carolina to an NCAA title, I’m honestly not sure whether Augustin’s skill set and intangibles are better.

Felton is faster from baseline to baseline, but Augustin might be quicker and more slippery. Felton is physically stronger and a natural leader. Augustin probably is better at getting his teammates the ball in the right places (as Kevin Durant could attest after their freshman seasons at Texas).

But I believe Augustin has a chance to be a solid NBA point guard. Considering the other players available when the Bobcats drafted at No. 9, this probably was a wise pick.

– Ken Tysiac