Caught up with Jeff Teague at the Hawks’ youth basketball camp in Suwanee. As we were talking, some dude came up and expressed his dismay at the Hawks trading for Devin Harris and signing Louis Williams because he saw this as a threat to Teague’s playing time.
I smiled because the guy’s angst sounded familiar. It’s the same sentiment I hear all the time from my blog people, who tend to freak out whenever there’s a better-than-terrible guard on the roster who can play the point behind Teague.
Never mind that Teague ranked third on the team in minutes played per game last season and logged about 80 percent of the minutes at point guard, according to 82games.com. Forget that Teague remained the starter after Kirk Hinrich returned from injury last season. Set aside Danny Ferry’s statement that the Hawks “will be more of Jeff’s team than it has ever been.”
Like that dude who cornered Teague, my blog people think back to Teague’s history with Larry Drew and just know that he’s waiting to trap door Teague.
Teague does not have those same concerns.
“I was going to come in confident and ready to play,” he said. “I’m familiar with Coach Drew. I was ready. When the trade happened I saw it as an opportunity to step up and play even better. That’s what I’m going to do.”
Seriously, though, I don’t mean to dismiss my blog peoples’ concern over whether Teague will get more opportunities. You have good reasons to be a bit skeptical, not least of all the fact that Teague made another big jump in scoring efficiency last season but his usage actually decreased a bit.
Some of you blame Drew for that but, from my seat near Atlanta’s bench, I can tell you that Drew regularly barked “Go get it, Jeff!” when Josh Smith, Joe Johnson or Al Horford collected a rebound. Drew wanted the ball in Teague’s hands so the Hawks could play faster (at least until it became Joe’s show late in games).
Instead, Teague usually would stay on his side of the court and wait for the ball to come his way or make a halfhearted effort to convince his teammate to give up the rock. He’s got to demand the ball if it’s going to be his show.
“I’ve got to be more of a leader,” Teague said. “I looked to other guys last year like Joe and Marvin [Williams] and those guys. I feel like it’s my time to step up and be a leader along with Josh and Al and try to be that third guy.”
Perhaps 2012-13 will be the year when it all comes together for Teague. The organization gets behind him; Drew gives him more opportunities in the offense; Teague finally becomes more assertive, and the absence of Joe means there’s one less guy for Teague to defer to. At the very least, there should be more shots to go around.
Even Teague isn’t sure how the lineup is going to shake out, noting that the Hawks are “a lot smaller but a lot faster.”
He said he can envision Harris playing alongside him at two guard. The same goes for Louis Williams. Maybe it’s Josh at small forward with Zaza Pachulia at center (which would make for a small frontcourt off the bench unless Ferry adds another center). Or maybe it’s Kyle Korver at small forward with Harris or Anthony Morrow at shooting guard (but I still can’t shake the image of Teague shutting down Korver in the 2011 playoffs) .
Right now, the Hawks have an awfully small backcourt with three guys who like to work with the ball in their hand (though Harris did play off ball some in Utah). Teague said they can make it work.
“We all can score the basketball,” he said. “We don’t really have a big two right now. We have a lot of shooters but Joe was a big two. We are just going to have to do it all collectively with Joe and Al and [now] I feel like I can be an elite point guard.”
He’s got a long way to go to reach that level but he got better last season and there’s still room for growth.
Teague’s 3-point shooting was better until his percentages took a big dive over the final 25 games. It appeared Teague lost confidence in his 3-pointer when he started missing a few but he brushed it off.
“Everybody goes through a slump during the year,” he said. “Mine just happened to be at the end. Hopefully I can come back shooting even better and be more effective.”
Even when Teague was making 3-pointers, opponents defended him by going under screens. With that in mind, Teague said he’s focused on his mid-range J this summer, another aspect of his game that improved significantly last season.
Teague got to the basket frequently last season but didn’t finish strongly or draw a high rate of fouls when he got there.
“I can’t do anything about fouls,” he said, smiling. “Finishing on layups, that’s on me. I can go in there and dunk the basketball. I could just take it right to the rim but I shot floaters because I thought guys could come over and block it.”
Teague also will have to be sharper defensively on screen-rolls. He went through periods where he seemed to be nonchalant about fighting through screens.
That’s reflected by the 0.8 points per possession posted by opposing pick-and-roll ballhandlers, a number that ranked 117th in the league according to Synergy Sports Technology. Also notice that Teague’s opposing PER is a pedestrian 16.2 in spite of an effective field-goal percentage allowed of just 47.3–those 17.5 field goal attempts and 9.6 assists per 48 minutes stand out. A player with Teague’s physical skills can do better.
Teague said he only recently got a chance to meet with Ferry because of the GM’s busy schedule and Teague’s two-week trip to China for an NBA outreach program. Teague said Ferry’s a “smart guy” with a plan that includes Teague as a major piece.
“He told me he was looking forward to working with me and he really liked my game,” Teague said. “He didn’t know how the trade and stuff would go but he knew I was going to be a focal point.”
Michael Cunningham, Hawks beat