Since back in December I believed Teague deserved to play more because of his improved production, the team’s need for his skills, Bibby’s decline and future considerations.
But I’m not going to front and act like I saw this coming.
Teague had some good moments during the season but he’s having his best moments on the biggest stage under challenging circumstances. He’s making the MVP work to get his, which might be expected given his quickness and defensive potential.
But Teague also has been Atlanta’s most consistent offensive player, sometimes showing more poise and better sitational decision-making that his veteran teammates. I mean, he’s got five turnovers in 206 minutes, for crying out loud.
“You saw he has that it in him, you just wondered when that was going to stick around longer,” L.D. said. “What he’s shown in playoffs is that he has arrived. He’s not doing it just against anybody; he’s doing it against maybe the top point guard in this league. I really take my hat off to the fact that he’s doing it like I haven’t seen it done under those circumstances.”
What the heck got into Teague?
To J.J., who said all season that the Hawks just needed to trust in Teague, the difference is simple.
“Just minutes,” he said. “Getting the opportunity.”
To Teague, the difference has not just been playing more; it’s knowing the Hawks need him to play more.
“I would say that’s the difference,” he said. “During the season I didn’t know if I was going to play one game and if I was going to sit the next. Now, knowing that I’m going to get an opportunity to go in every game, I just try to focus and give a good effort.”
That actually makes sense when you look back at the games during the season where Teague knew he was going to play. In those games he was never really bad. Sometimes he was good, other times just OK, but there were few outright dogs among those games.
The pattern continues: Jamal missed a game at Cleveland and Teague was good in 18 minutes. The Hawks traded Bibby, Teague started four games in a row and was solid in each one–if not always efficient offensively, at least holding his own against some good point guards.
There was, of course, that game against Portland, when L.D. benched Marvin, Teague got the start and changed the game with his burst of steals and scores. Teague started the next two games against Milwaukee and Denver and was pretty good–again, holding his own if not very efficient. Same goes for the final four games of the season, when the starters shut it down and Teague played big minutes.
Mind you, Teague was never as good as he’s been during this series. But clearly he was better when circumstances meant he knew he was going to play. Perhaps that’s not the right mindset for a player with something to prove but apparently that’s the way it is for Teague.
“I think that’s for everybody,” Teague said. “When something is put against you and you know you have to do it, you focus a lot more.”
Thing is, in L.D.’s, view, that was part of the problem.
(Aside: Some of my blog people have been wondering why L.D. hasn’t been “grilled” more about why he didn’t play Teague more during the season. He’s been asked plenty; it’s just that you haven’t liked the answers. Or maybe I’m just taking the wrong approach to this thing. Who wants to roll with me when I put Drew under a bright lamp and we can do good-cop, bad-cop until he breaks down and confesses he just doesn’t like Teague?)
Each time L.D. has been asked why he didn’t play Teague more, he’s said it’s because he didn’t think he was consistent enough. I asked L.D. once again if he had any regrets about not playing Teague more often, especially since Bibby was struggling:
“No. When I took the job I brought him in here and told him I expect him to really come in here and make life tough for Mike Bibby. That’s just being competitive and fighting for a position; that’s not taking nothing away from Mike Bibby, that’s just trying to get a guy you are hoping will be your next point guard and you are hoping will groom himself to do it. That didn’t happen, and the last thing I wanted to do was just to hand it over to him. I wanted him to come in and really show that he has some fire in his belly and not just push Mike—I wanted him to take it. And knowing Mike being the veteran he is, he is going to have his ways to make sure he doesn’t let it go. It was all on Jeff. I could have very easily not said a word to Jeff and see how he responded to it. I wanted him to know to know that I believed in him, I wanted him to know that I expected him to really, really push Mike. I didn’t get the response I was looking for and, again, I wasn’t going to hand it over to him.”
As it turned out, L.D. had no choice but to give Teague the controls in this series. And with the way Teague has responded, there can be no more questions about whether Teague deserves to play point guard for this team.
“He’s been great,” J.J. said. “As long as he continues to work and get better over the summer, sky’s the limit. This will definitely be his team to run.”
Less than three months ago the Hawks made a trade because they weren’t sure about Jeff Teague. It was only two weeks ago that Teague played a bit part against Orlando, though Drew says Teague would have played more against Chicago even if Hinrich hadn’t gone down.
Now Teague has been so good that L.D. said he wasn’t sure what he would do if the Hawks advance and Hinrich is healthy enough to play.
“It gives me options,” he said. “If it’s perceived as now I’ve got a problem [because] I’ve got a young point guard played his tail off and now I’ve got Kirk coming back if we go to the next round, then I would like to have that problem. That’s a very nice problem to have.”
Michael Cunningham, Hawks beat