Jeff Teague enters the 2013-14 season with an unfamiliar weight on his shoulders. Against his wishes, the Atlanta Hawks matched the Milwaukee Bucks offer sheet of $32 million over 4 years. General manager Danny Ferry and new head coach Mike Budenholzer have put their faith in him as the man to lead Atlanta (at least for the near future), and it’s time for Teague to step up.
Considered by many to be a solid, talented young point guard, the Indianapolis native has all the raw materials needed to be one of the top floor generals in the NBA. The much changed landscape in Atlanta might just be what Teague needs to further develop as he will be a pivotal figure in the Hawks game plan this year. Although he had expressed his desire to follow departing Hawks coach Larry Drew to Milwaukee, Teague has since declared himself happy to return to Atlanta, and committed to the future of the organization. Upset that he was made to wait on an offer from the Hawks, Teague will have a point to prove come opening night. With a few adjustments to his game, he could achieve this and catapult himself into the upper echelons of the league’s point guard class. Here’s three things that could transform Teague’s game:
Traditionally, the point guard is the primary ball handler and play caller on the court and is one of the true leaders in the locker room. In his previous four seasons in Atlanta, this hasn’t quite been the case for Jeff Teague. For Teague’s first two seasons in the league, he had to settle for rare starts as he found himself behind tested veterans such as Mike Bibby and Kirk Hinrich on the depth chart.
After an injury to Hinrich in the 2011 playoff series against the Bulls, Teague stepped into the starting five and posted big numbers sealing his spot for the next season. In his two years as a starter since, Teague has been vocal on the court, but you never quite got the sense it was his team to run. With former team captains Joe Johnson and Josh Smith having left in successive seasons though, now only Teague and Al Horford remain as players who have spent more than one season as Hawks.
With this in mind, expect Teague to have to exert a lot more influence this year, finding the ball in his hands in clutch situations, and having to help will his teammates to victory. A promising sign of his recent development as a leader was his presence at the Las Vegas Summer League where he lent his support to Atlanta’s new rookies. The Hawks 17th pick from Germany, Dennis Schroeder is likely to be the man playing backup to Teague this year and with high expectations for Schroeder, the Hawks will hope that Teague will step up and act as a mentor.
One of the main criticisms of Teague has been of his occasional lack of aggression. It was one of the primary reasons why Larry Drew would often bench Teague for large chunks of the 4th quarter. What’s peculiar about this is his inconsistency. There are nights where Teague plays with every intention of being the dominant figure on the court, and is fully committed with his play on both ends of the floor, while there are others where his instinct seems to be to defer to others.
Teague is blessed with exceptional speed which gives him the opportunity to be a menace on both ends of the floor. Last season he ranked 24th in steals, averaging 1.5 a game. Many of these steals created vital fast break opportunities for Atlanta, as when Teague swipes the ball away at mid court there aren’t many that can catch him. It wouldn’t take much for the 25-year-old to utilize his quick hands and reach for the steal a bit more often, and if he could bring his average up to 1.7/1.8 he’d be bordering on being one of the league’s elite on-ball defenders.
Teague has also proven himself to be adept at spectacular chase down blocks. Yet, last season he only averaged one block every three games. With his athleticism, Teague is more than capable of increasing that to a block every second game and doing his bit in replacing the defensive powerhouse that is Josh Smith.
On the offensive end, Teague makes use of a very consistent pull up floater while he’s in the paint. Although, it’s a valuable tool in the point guard’s arsenal, the Wake Forest man can occasionally be over reliant on it. Teague is a capable finisher around the rim and has a variety of acrobatic lay-ups and dunks in his repertoire, but he needs to be more aggressive and drive directly towards the hole. The primary reason for this is that he is an excellent free throw shooter.
Last season he shot 88.1% from the stripe, but was only ranked 78th in FT’s attempted at 2.8 per game. As a free throw shooter of that caliber, if Teague can increase his trips to the line, his scoring numbers will rocket.
Three Point Shooting
After shooting 22% from behind the arc in his first season, Teague has gone 37%, 34% and 35%. His much improved 3-point shooting is a weapon the Hawks can really make use of in the coming season. With Millsap and Horford potentially clogging up the middle and Kyle Korver likely heavily guarded as the first choice outside shooter, there will be plenty of opportunities for Teague to let fly.
There’s potential for him to be even more productive from distance if he’s just a little more selective with his shot choice though. His shot chart from behind the arc for last season shows that Teague averaged a combined 40.66% for deep balls from the center, right wing and right corner of the court. On the flip side, he only managed to shoot 30.7% from the left wing and left corner. At the rate he shot the ball from range last year, a shift to avoid shooting 3’s from the left side could improve Teague’s PPG by 0.5 immediately. I’d argue though that if he’s consistently shooting a high percentage from that part of the floor, he should be encouraged to launch more 3’s from the center and right hand side of the arc, which could potentially increase his output further.
Teague has proven himself as a wily and skilled operator in the league over his first four seasons, but there is definitely an opportunity for him to grow further. Surrounded by highly skilled big men and good shooters, he could help the rebuilding Hawks take a giant step forward. If Teague can make even moderate improvements on the aspects of his game outlined above, the Hawks could surprise a lot of people and be better than expected this year. If this materializes, expect to hear Teague’s name in the All-Star mix for this season and many more to come.