Vivlamore reporting. Here is my feature on Jeff Teague that will appear in the Tuesday print edition of the AJC.
You can call Jeff Teague the head of the snake.
Hawks coach Larry Drew and forward Josh Smith both use that description for the team’s evolving point guard. For where and how Teague goes, the Hawks usually follow.
“When he’s going well then chances are we are too,” Drew said.
Things have been going well of late. The Hawks (9-5) have won six of their past seven games. Teague had back-to-back double-digit assist games, a career first, and another contest with six steals, a career best, in that span.
After playing sparingly his first two seasons, Teague has been a staple of the Hawks’ lineup the past two. He has started the last 92 games, beginning with the playoff series against the Bulls at the end of the 2010-11 season, including all 80 regular-season games.
Although Teague put up career-best numbers in points, assists, steals, rebounds, blocks and shooting percentage last season, the Hawks acquired Devin Harris and Lou Williams in the offseason. Both are veterans with a proven the ability to play point guard in the NBA.
Drew didn’t want Teague looking over his shoulder. As part of the coach’s offseason cross-country tour to visit players, Drew made a stop in Indianapolis.
“That whole looking over the shoulder thing, we tried to dismiss that very early,” Drew said. “I just want him to understand, along with all the rest of the players, we are all in this together where guys are going to get playing time. There are going to be some nights when it’s not your night. There are going to be some nights when you are going to be carrying the club. Under no circumstance do I want, and I don’t care who is behind him, that he has to look over his shoulder.”
Teague, 24, has been in the situation throughout his professional career with players like Mike Bibby and Kirk Hinrich on the roster and competing for playing time. Drew explained that Teague would be his starter in a more up-tempo offense.
“To come to Indiana, not too many people come to Indiana on their off time,” Teague said. “For him to come out there, I knew he meant business and I appreciated it.”
There have been struggles this season. Despite scoring 15 points against the Kings two weeks ago, the start of a six-game win streak, Teague played less than 20 minutes. Drew said he didn’t like the way Teague was playing and went with Williams instead. Teague had a combined 38 assists in the next four games, including the double-digit efforts against the Bobcats and Clippers.
There are going to be mistakes the new up-tempo offense. Drew doesn’t want Teague to look to the bench after a turnover.
“I’m just getting more comfortable,” Teague said. “That’s all I can really say. Last year, was different for me. It was like getting thrown in the fire. I didn’t really have a chance to play my first two years. I was learning on the fly. This year, I’m a lot more comfortable.
“I didn’t play (his first two seasons). I didn’t have a chance to make a mistake. (Then head coach Mike Woodson) was cool. He told me at the beginning of the year I probably wouldn’t play much. I knew going into it. Coach Drew, we got familiar with each other in practice my rookie year. He knew what I could do. He told me if you go out there and try to make plays, I’ll never be mad at you. He’s stuck to that.”
The Hawks see a more confident player in Teague. The quiet-spoken player is never going to be one to talk a lot – although he’ll talk a little trash in post-practice 3-point shooting contests. It’s his decision-making maturity that has impressed.
“I think he’s seeing the game a lot better than he has in the past,” center Al Horford said. “I think that comes from experience. He knows when to shoot the ball now and when to pass. He’s doing a really good job of that. I think in the past, maybe he had me for open shots and maybe he would realize it but he wouldn’t pass it. Now, it’s like second nature. If he doesn’t have a great shot, he’s passing the ball and getting us easy baskets. He’s the reason we are playing so well.”
Teague averaged 10.1 and 13.8 minutes, respectively in his first two seasons. Last season he averaged 33.1 minutes and so far this year is averaging 31.0 minutes. In that time, he is averaging 13.6 points, 7.1 assists, 2.4 rebounds and 1.8 steals.
Teague has another year remaining on his contract after being the team’s first-round pick (No. 19 overall) in 2009. He will be a restricted free agent next season, meaning the Hawks have the right to match any offer he might get from another team.
“He’s really starting to mold into a really consistent point guard,” Drew said. “… As I told him, I don’t ever want him to lose his aggressiveness, particularly pushing the basketball, being creative and attacking. I do want him to be smarter in the decision-making, be a little bit more selective. More importantly, just let your natural basketball instincts take over. He is really starting to find his niche in that area.”
- Chris Vivlamore