Hawks Building a Future Around Teague?
The highlights didn’t run on a loop on Sportscenter and his jersey wasn’t shipped off to Springfield in the aftermath, but Atlanta Hawks point guard Jeff Teague may have delivered his best game as a professional this week.
Following Monday’s 97-58 embarrassing loss to the Bulls in Chicago, the 24-year-old Teague returned to Atlanta with his teammates to beat the surging Brooklyn Nets, 109-95, without suspended forward Josh Smith. What few noticed was that Teague ended the game with 28 points on 12-of-18 shooting in addition to the 11 assists he dished out.
But the story here isn’t that Teague simply had a great game. Rather, the performance is significant because no matter how good he played, Teague knew it was just one night in a very long season.
“It could have been [my best game],” Teague told HOOPSWORLD prior to Friday’s loss to the Nets in Brooklyn. “It was a pretty good game, but it was only one game. You got to play again with the same team, so hopefully you can have the same outcome.”
The Hawks didn’t have the same outcome against the Nets on Friday, but Teague was hardly to blame. He finished with 21 points and 10 assists on a night in which fellow Hawks point guard Lou Williams suffered a knee injury.
Teague and Williams had been two parts of Atlanta’s three-headed monster at point guard. Along with Devin Harris, the trio has allowed Larry Drew’s team to play a different brand of basketball this season.
Whereas the Hawks relied on isolation during Joe Johnson’s tenure with the team, the Hawks have pushed their pace (up to 93.6 possessions per game from 92.5 last season) and Teague believes it’s a system that fits his game.
“I played both guard positions while I was at Wake Forest, so it’s not a whole lot different for me, but it’s fun getting out there and playing fast, up and down the court,” Teague said of playing alongside other point guards. “It makes the game a lot easier.
“I think we play a lot faster,” he continued. “Last year, we were a slow-down team, a half-court team, so this year we pushed the pace a little bit, get out and run and get easy baskets.”
Truthfully, this isn’t Teague’s breakthrough season. He’s started every game in which he’s played since the beginning of last season and he’s averaging 13.3 points and 6.6 assists per game so far this year.
Teague readily admits that he needs to work on his consistency and his turnover rate (12.5) is probably a bit higher than Drew would like it, but there’s no denying that he’s improved. For instance, his 29.9 assist rate (percentage of possessions that end in an assist) is a career high and speaks to his maturity as a playmaker.
“He’s going to be a great point guard in this league one day,” Johnson said after the Nets beat the Hawks on Friday. “Some day, he’ll be an All-Star. He’s got all the tools. He’s fast, quick, explosive and he just still has a little learning to do and he’ll be all right.”
But as bright as Teague’s future may be, the Hawks’ isn’t so clear.
Outside of Al Horford, Williams and rookie John Jenkins, Teague is really the only player on the roster guaranteed to be back next year. He’s technically a restricted free agent, but Atlanta will assuredly extend the requisite qualifying offer to retain his services. Meanwhile, players such as Josh Smith, Devin Harris, Zaza Pachulia, Kyle Korver, Anthony Morrow and Johan Petro are all set to become unrestricted free agents and are likely in their last season with the team.
Teague has had no choice but to put the entire situation out of his mind.
“I don’t think many people think about it,” he said. “We just know that we have a really good team this year and we can do a lot of special things. Guys believe in each other, so we just try to go out there and play for each other.”
In the meantime, the 22-17 Hawks are still in the midst of the playoff hunt and Teague will undoubtedly be a major factor for the team going forward.
It may be this group’s last run together, but for Teague, this could be the start of something much, much bigger.