Miami–After watching Jeff Teague’s strangely passive play against the Rockets and hearing coach Larry Drew’s pointed critique of his performance afterwards, I thought back to what Teague, Drew and Josh Smith said before the game.
If you recall, after Teague’s strong game against New Jersey on Friday he mentioned that teammates were telling him they were open on drives to the basket but that his game is scoring. But after watching the video of that game, Teague said he saw their point.
“You can be aggressive, but be aggressive and make plays for others,” Teague said before the Rockets game. “Me being a point guard, I’ve got the ball and I can get guys involved so they can play defense. It’s hard to play defense if you don’t touch the ball. Josh made a great point. One time I went to the hole [against New Jersey] and I tried to make a tough, left-handed layup. I looked at the film, and he was open on the baseline. He talked to me. We talk all the time. I’m glad he did that.
“[Teammates] tell me to be aggressive. Joe [Johnson] told me, ‘If the lane is open, take it. Use your speed.’ Josh told me the same thing. But as a young guy you score a couple layups you start thinking it’s an easy play.”
Teague said the conversation with Smith happened on the bench and it wasn’t heated. Smith said he thinks Teague is still fine-tuning his game.
“I think that’s s big key in his growth process, knowing when to be aggressive and when to get his teammates involved,” Smith said. “I know it’s something you have to learn, and in his career he’s always been a scorer. It’s definitely going to be a learning curve but we are patient because he is doing some good stuff off the dribble, getting to the rim and being able to create for himself.
“I think he’s now more cautious and mindful of trying to get his teammates involved, especially when me and Al [Horford] run the floor. We don’t get that many plays [called for them] so when we run the floor, that’s when we expect the ball. Just a little touch. That’s the main focus on knowing when to get teammates involved. He’s been doing good so far. He’s s been watching film and seeing who’s open on the dribble drive.”
Before the Rockets game, Drew also said he didn’t plan to rein in Teague.
“I’m not going to tone him down,” he said. “I want him to be himself. There have been a lot of great point guards in this league who have had a score-first, pass second mentality. That’s who Jeff is. I don’t want to take that away from him.
“At the same time I have to coach him and show him when he does penetrate and get to the basket, sometimes it’s a late dish. I think he’s dong a great job with that. Jeff is still learning. We will continue to watch him and make sure he understands that at that position all the tools that are necessary.”
So Teague’s coach and his teammates are encouraging him to be aggressive but also get other guys involved. I wonder if the second part of the message had Teague thinking too much against the Rockets. And then I also wondered if Drew’s “scoring is overrated” comment after the Rockets would have the same effect.
But today at shootaround, Drew said what he really meant is that he wants Teague to be more assertive. Lester Conner and Nick Van Exel delivered that message to Teague and Drew was talking to Teague about it as shootaround wrapped up.
“He was not aggressive,” Drew said. “I’m going to find out why that was. You don’t go from having the game he had against [New Jersey] and then he didn’t take a field goal the whole first half [at Houston]. He has to be aggressive. He is really the head of the snake with our team. Yeah, our big three [is] Joe, Al and Smoove, but what Teague brings to the table we don’t have anyone else that can do that: break the defense down, get into the paint at will.
“When he is aggressive, it makes us that much better. When he’s passive as he was against Houston, he’s just another ballplayer. He’s got to be aggressive. He’s got to be in his attack mode.”
We’ll see if Teague is more aggressive tonight in the first game of a big week for the Hawks. By now it’s clear Teague is a guy who takes what his coaches and teammates say to heart. Remember, he cited their encouragement as a reason for his coming out against the Bulls in the playoffs. During training camp he said feeling like his teammates trust him is the biggest factor in his confidence this season.
As the point guard on a veteran team deep with scorers, Teague is probably always going to have someone telling him they need more touches. Obviously Teague should listen but Drew said he also has to learn how to selectively filter that talk.
“It comes with the territory,” Drew said. “Sometimes you have go to learn how to shake that off. Sometimes you have got to let it go in one ear and out the other. It’s OK. I think it’s healthy for a young guy who does have that mentality of being a scorer and being a passer. It will balance itself out eventually.
“Jeff is still very young. He’s very receptive. If he were the type of player where if somebody said that to him and got upset or mad [it would be a problem], but he’s not like that. He wants to learn. He takes criticism. He really absorbs information and does a good job in communicating. He’s not a selfish-type player. It’s just his DNA is [that of] a scorer.”
Michael Cunningham, Hawks beat