For a long time it seemed almost inevitable. With an increase in productivity, leadership and general recognition around the league; Jeff Teague was destined to be an All-Star in 2014. It all went wrong though. Having started the season with a roar, there wasn’t even a whimper to be heard calling for Teague’s candidacy in the final week running up to the selections. Teague’s play falling off a cliff has made the consistency and competitiveness of the Hawks even more impressive. In the longer term, should the Hawks be worried about how they’ll fare if their starting point guard continues to struggle?
It’s not difficult to pinpoint the moment when Jeff Teague’s season took a swing in the wrong direction. It was Dec. 26 and the Hawks season overall was about to take on a drastic change in fortunes. When fighting through an Anderson Varejao screen, Al Horford got his arm caught up and suffered a torn pectoral muscle that would end his season. The game itself was an epic, with the Hawks prevailing in double overtime, following a game-winner by no other than Teague himself. It’s the sort of moment that you’d expect a player to kick on and elevate his game after, but it was bittersweet for Teague as it was accompanied by the loss of his offensive running mate.
Let’s not lose sight of the fact that Teague is currently tracking for a career year, but after his elite start to the season it’s impossible not to be disappointed. After eventually re-signing with the Hawks as a restricted free agent last summer, the former Wake Forest man found himself earning a solid mid level contract for a man with his time served in the league. As a result, there was an expectation that his productivity would increase, and initially his performance lived up to billing.
Up to and including Dec. 26, Teague was keeping company with the NBA’s most elite at the point guard position. For those first 29 games he averaged 16.8 points, 8.2 assists and 2.9 rebounds. This went hand-in-hand with a 42.1 shooting percentage from the field and an average 5.8 free throw attempts per game. These are undoubtedly impressive numbers, but what’s most remarkable is that Teague is worse off in all five of these key stats in the absence of Horford. The Hawks have played 17 games since, fighting hard for a record of 8-9 in that period. For that time Teague has averaged 14.8 points, 5.6 assists and 2.4 rebounds. His shooting has also dropped to 40 percent, while his free throw attempts have fallen to 3.9 per game. The question is does Al Horford make his teammates that much better or is Teague incapable of being a primary option? The answer is probably a little of both.
One of the main aspects of Teague’s recent play that needs to be scrutinized is his passing. The Hawks have spent the majority of the season as the NBA’s leader in assists per game, and Teague has been the team’s leader in that stat too. If we once again take a look at Teague prior to Horford’s injury, when the center got injured Teague’s 8.2 assists per game had him ranked fourth in the NBA in that category, only trailing Paul, Curry and Wall. Since then, his 5.6 assists have him ranked 32nd. This isn’t helped by the fact that Teague hadn’t posted double-digit assists since that momentous night in Cleveland until he had 13 in Wednesday night’s loss in New Orleans. Another interesting stat when reviewing the Indianapolis native’s passing game is passes per game. For the season, Teague might be ranked eighth overall in assists, but in terms of his number of passes per night, he is way down in 28th. That clocks in at almost 20 less than leader Kemba Walker, which in a team that preaches ball movement isn’t a massive amount for the point guard.
Other areas letting Teague down are his finishing around the rim and his 3-point shooting. As a guy capable of dunking or acrobatically laying it in, Teague has never been earmarked as a poor finisher. Under his new head coach Mike Budenholzer, Teague has ramped his aggression up a notch, reminiscent of Bud’s work with Tony Parker. As a result, Teague is now ranked fourth in the league in drives, but the problem is that he only shoots 41.1 percent on those attempts, more than 10 percent less than Ty Lawson, Parker and Monta Ellis, the only three men who drive more often. Add into the mix an abysmal year shooting the 3-pointer, Teague’s worst since his rookie season, and the problems stack up fast. Teague, who averages 33 percent from deep for his career, has only been shooting 26.7 percent this year.
The question for Teague and the Hawks is can the 25-year-old iron out these issues to become an All-Star caliber player? There’s no reason, why he can’t, and under a coach with a great track record of developing a speedy point guard, he should continue to get better in time.