The Atlanta Hawks have played impressively in the early stages of this new season, as they seem to have adjusted on their feet to the vast changes that surrounded the locker room during the past off-season. Defensively, there are still adjustments that need to be made, and these will likely take time, but on the other side, the Hawks offense looks better than it has in years. The constant ball movement that head coach Mike Budenholzer has encouraged, has led to efficient high percentage shots, and so far the scoring load has been spread across the roster. On the court, the man orchestrating this potent offense is Jeff Teague, the Hawks fifth year point guard.
Prior to the season, I wrote about the opportunity for Teague to break out and bring his game to the next level this year, and judging by his start, that is exactly what he will do. Teague has all the tools necessary to be one of the best point guards in the league. He has lightning fast speed, which he can utilize in a number of ways.On the defensive end it allows him to pick his opponents pocket, and make spectacular charge down blocks. Offensively his speed makes him a genuine fastbreak threat, while even in half court sets, his pace allows him to blow by defenders to get to the rim. That is a side of his game that Hawks fans would have wanted to see more of from Teague, and they have got that, but with a bit more subtlety than he has shown in the past.
In these first few games, Teague has used his speed much more efficiently than in his previous four seasons, undoubtedly a sign of his growing maturity. The former Wake Forest man doesn’t seem to feel the need to charge towards the hoop every time down the floor, and instead is using is high basketball IQ and strong ball handling skills to wait for the right opportunity to find a high percentage pass or shot. If Teague can continue to play in this style, there is no reason why he can’t become a floor general similar to the likes of Tony Parker, Chris Paul and Rajon Rondo. Already, there are signs of Teague combining with Al Horford and Paul Millsap to become one of the most underrated and consistently productive trios in the NBA.
Teague has dramatically improved his passing and assists numbers year on year in his pro career and this year is showing no signs of being any different. For his opening 8 games Teague is averaging 9.9 assists a night, ranked second in the league. Also, Teague’s increased usage and ball handling (averaging 84.7 touches a game, 9th in the NBA) with Josh Smith now in Detroit, has allowed the point guard to make the definitive decisions on offense. As a result it’s not only his passing numbers that have increased, but his scoring also, up 3.5 points on last year, at 18.1 per game.
On top of this, Teague and Horford have been as effective and efficient as ever in the pick and roll. Teague’s aggression and penetration driving towards the paint has always benefited Horford, as his point guard willingly kicks the ball out to Horford’s favorite spot on the floor for the elbow jump shot. With Atlanta adding Paul Millsap in the off-season, Teague has a second option for mid-range jump shots, an unfamiliar feeling for a man so used to looking at Josh Smith on the perimeter. The ability for Teague’s penetration to open up the floor for two big men to shoot mid to long range jump shots, that are almost automatic, means that opposition defenses have their work cut out in trying to stop the Hawks.
Teague’s strong start to the season has come in spite of a mediocre shooting start, particularly from the free throw line and three point range. Teague who was one of the best free throw shooters in the NBA last season, has uncharacteristically missed a number of free throws so far. While his three point shooting has left a lot to be desired, shooting only 25 percent so far. In the coming weeks as players continue to get up to speed, I would have every expectation that these aspects of his shooting game will improve though. If that is the case, and Teague continues to run the offense as proficiently, and unselfishly as he has to date, he is on course to make his All Star debut in the coming months.