Back on Dec. 16, before the Hawks played the Celtics at TD Garden, I had a conversation with L.D. about his team’s pick-and-roll defense. I noted that, according to Synergy Sports Technology, his team ranked next-to-last in the league at defending pick-and-roll ballhandlers (they now rank 28th, allowing .91 points per possession).
(Synergy counts only those times when the screen-roll ballhandler is “responsible for the ending action which can be a shot attempt, turnover or drawing a foul that results in free throws.” So it does not count the times when the initial pick-and-roll leads to other actions as the Hawks scramble. Notably, the Hawks rank first in the league at defending the roll man, allowing only .82 points per possession. I ‘m thinking this is what is known as “The Josh Smith effect.”)
So I asked L.D. how the Hawks could ever hope to be effective defending the perimeter given the guys who are playing the most minutes:
“Looking at our personnel, a lot of it involves Mike. Teams know that. We try and disguise some things to not have him as involved. He is at the stage of his career where it is tough for him to defend pick-and-rolls and teams know that. We try to do some things to disguise it, try to manipulate it. He is not the only one. We have just got guys with the initial impact of the ball, they have a hard time with it. We just try to manipulate it a little bit to make it a little bit easier for him. It’s something we will continue to work at.”
This naturally led to a question about Teague. I let L.D. know I was not trying to suggest that Teague is a cure-all for the team’s woes defending the pick-and-roll but certainly he is the best option the Hawks have right now. He has the potential to become even better at it as he gains experience and sees more situations.
Is it that L.D. believes Teague is giving up too much offensively in relation to Bibby and Jamal to give Teague more minutes?
“I’m trying to find that balance. You give up certain things with certain guys. Teague has the speed, the quickness, the footspeed to defend the pick-and-roll. But you give up things in other areas with him on the floor. He vs. Mike on the floor, obviously Mike is a shotmaker and you give that up. It’s tick for tack. You try to get both guys better in areas where they are deficient. You try to get Mike better at defending the pick-and-rolls, We have got to manipulate it a little bit and help him out as much as you can with that. Teague, because he does a pretty good job with it, we constantly try to improve his shot and keep him in an attack mode offensively and get to the basket and finishing. You give up something on one end, you give up something else at the other.”
This is a good time to compare Teague’s production and efficiency in 2009-10 to this season so far.
Teague’s production per 36 minutes is better in nearly every category. His effective field-goal percentage, true-shooting percentage, assist percentage, rebound percentage and block percentage are all improved. His turnover percentage is up slightly. Teague’s usage percentage is down even as his minutes are up. The numbers may not look as good if he were to get even more minutes, and chances are he will never be an offensive threat like Bibby and Jamal, but Teague is not killing the Hawks offensively and there are signs he’s getting better.
Back to Boston: Hours after that conversation with L.D., Teague had probably his best game of the season. Afterward, Teague talked about taking L.D.’s message to heart and focusing on being aggressive and assertive. L.D. praised Teague’s play: “That’s what I am looking for. I need that.” Drew said this in a way that made me think that he really does want Teague to become a permanent fixture in the rotation and believes he can do it.
And so what happened from there? Teague played 15 solid minutes in the next game against Charlotte, then seven minutes at New Jersey and eight vs. Orlando. Teague got 18 minutes against Cleveland, then a DNP-CD against New Orleans. Jamal sat out all of those games except New Orleans, and there are some good pick-and-roll teams among that group. Yet Teague still couldn’t get consistent minutes.
That led to last night at Milwaukee. Before the game I reminded L.D. of our conversation at Boston and asked him if he still thought Teague was too much of a liability offensively in relation to Jamal and Bibby to warrant a permanent spot in the rotation:
“He certainly brings the speed aspect to what we do and we definitely need that. When he is playing with that kind of reckless abandonment with his speed, we are effective. He has to know when to punch it and when to back off. Certainly his speed is something we don’t have, and hopefully he will continue to learn and continue to get better in that area because that is something we desperately need from him. I didn’t play him last night but certainly looking to get him in there tonight, especially against Boykins.”
And then Drew did get Teague in there, and Teague had another fine game while playing 18 minutes. Afterward Teague talked about Lester Conner staying in his ear and encouraging him to impact the game. Drew praised Teague’s performance.
So what will all this mean for Teague from here on out? Based on what’s happened so far, it’s hard to say. The whole thing has been a bit confusing. As an organization the Hawks talked all summer about the importance of Teague becoming a major contributor. Then he got hurt in training camp and fell behind. It seems he’s been playing catch-up ever since and hasn’t always been afforded the opportunity to work his way through rough stretches or rewarded for his good performances.
Certainly L.D. has given Teague more opportunities than his predecessor on the bench. But I think a fair interpretation of events is that, despite L.D.’s stated desire to mold the Hawks into a defensive team and develop his young players, his decisions in this matter reflect a different tact. (Shoot, it makes me wonder how willing he’d be to stick with the promising “big” lineup if Twin were a young guy. Would it just mean more Etan Thomas?)
Since L.D.’s actions with Teague don’t always match his words, I can only conclude that he is reluctant to reduce minutes for his two veteran “shotmakers” with defensive deficiencies for the sake of finding more playing time for his most physically-gifted perimeter defender. This is happening even though L.D. says the team needs Teague’s skill set, Teague has shown signs of improving offensively and he is key to both the team’s fortunes this season and in the future.
Drew has said that because Jamal, Bibby and Teague have such contrasting strengths and weaknesses he’s always thinking about making adjustments on the fly. He doesn’t have one guard who can do it all so he’s trying to match his available pieces to situations. But so far Teague seems to be getting lost in that equation. Stay tuned, blog people.