They called Nick Van Exel “Nick the Quick” during his playing days because of his speed, and in that way Jeff Teague is similar to Van Exel.
But Van Exel also had what L.D. calls an “edge” and “played with a chip on his shoulder.” Teague doesn’t have that so L.D. brought in Van Exel to help him find it.
“We call it ‘the dog’ in the NBA,” Van Exel said. “We are trying to bring that dog out of him.”
For Van Exel, the dog was a natural thing. You saw it in his brashness, his attacking style and his knack for taking and making buzzer-beating shots. Of course, sometimes it could be tough to contain Van Exel’s “dog”–he had a history of untimely technical fouls and a rep for difficult relations with coaches and teammates–but you could never say Van Exel wasn’t aggressive.
These things don’t come naturally for Teague.
“He’s kind of a quiet kid,” Van Exel said. “He likes to joke around and have fun. But there are times when somebody makes him mad, and he is just blowing by guys. And we are like, ‘Man, you’ve got to to that all the time.’
“He can do it. He has those skills. We are thinking about maybe going up to him and making him mad before every game, making up stuff just to get him going.”
You see flashes of fire in Teague. During one of the informal pickup games last week Bibby called a foul on Teague, who thought his block was clean. Teague angrily protested the call and in the next few possessions attacked the basket with zeal. His banter with Bibby continued in locker room, and though it was in that half-joking, half-serious tone, there was no doubt Teague was still ticked about the call.
Hawks coaches want to see that spark all the time.
“He has all the tools,” Van Exel said. “It’s just a matter of him bringing an aggressive style and approach to the game every night. Skill-wise, I think he is up there with the best of them. He can shoot it. He can get in the lane anytime he wants. He can break the defense down. He has all the skills.”
Van Exel retired from playing after the 2005-06 season. He ranked among the league’s top eight in assists for five different seasons and the top 10 in 3-pointers made in four seasons.
Van Exel said he had planned to take a couple years off after his retirement and then get an NBA coaching gig but that didn’t work out. He was an assistant coach at Texas Southern in Houston when L.D. called.
“This is really I wanted to be,” he said. “It is great to be back [in the league].”