Jeff Teague Relishing the Chance to Start
Atlanta Hawks point guard Jeff Teague spent the first two years of his career playing between 10-13 minutes a game, while cracking the starting lineup only 10 times. That all changed in last year’s playoffs when incumbent starter Kirk Hinrich went down with an injury and missed the entire second round of the playoffs against the Chicago Bulls.
Teague stepped in and proved he was ready to lead the team. Against the Bulls, Teague averaged over 14 points a game on better than 53% shooting, while committing just over one turnover per game. With Hinrich still sidelined, Teague is relishing the opportunity to begin the season as the Hawks starting point guard.
“Ever since I got an opportunity to play I’ve been wanting to be a starter, trying to get those starter minutes, and now I’m getting them,” Teague told HOOPSWORLD. “I’m just trying to make the most of it.”
Teague’s numbers don’t lie; he is definitely taking advantage of his opportunity. He leads the team in assists and steals, is second on the team in minutes played, and fourth on the team in field goal percentage and three-point percentage.
“Whatever they need me to do, if they need me to score some points or if they need me to pass it, I’m just going to do whatever to win.”
Knowing he was likely to be the team’s starter at the beginning of the season, Teague worked hard during the extended layoff to make sure he didn’t let his teammates down. He entered the season with one thing in mind.
“Just being able to stretch the defense,” Teague said. “I think I’m shooting the ball pretty well right now, and just try to continue doing that work on my overall game. Trying to become a better player.”
Teague is shooting over 37% from behind the three-point line and has impressed his all-star teammates and gained the trust of head coach Larry Drew.
“I know when he is playing at the top of his game and he’s playing at a level that he is capable of playing at, he makes us a better ball club,” Drew told the media recently. “His speed and his quickness is just something that we don’t have, and when he’s playing like that it just makes us effective.”
“He’s brought a different dimension to our team as far as him attacking the basket and facilitating for other people,” Al Horford told HOOPSWORLD. “I think that the more games that he plays with us, the more comfortable he’ll get with that role, but so far he’s doing a great job.”
Joe Johnson is also singing Teague’s praises. In fact, he goes so far as to say Teague is making his life on the court much easier.
“I can really sit back and be more of a spot up shooter a lot of the time instead of being the guy that makes a lot of the plays. Jeff makes all of our jobs a lot easier,” Johnson explained to HOOPSWORLD.
“Coming into this year he was the starting point guard and with Kirk being hurt he understood that we had to lean on him a lot more.” Johnson concluded, “He’s been great, he’s been putting a lot of pressure on the defense and been making plays,”
There is one potential blemish in this story though, within the next few weeks Hinrich is expected to return to the lineup, and coach Drew will have a tough decision to make about whom should be the team’s starter.
“We don’t know right now, we’ll just see how that goes with Kirk,” Drew said. “We are certainly going to bring him along slowly, see how he feels, but as far as who is going to be the starter at that point I haven’t made a decision.”
For Teague’s part, he’s welcoming Hinrich back and believes he will make the Hawks a serious threat in the Eastern Conference.
“When Kirk gets back, I think we can be really good. Having another scoring guard off the bench, or starting, wherever they put him, plus he’s a great defender,” Teague explained. “We could be really good, I mean, really really good.”
With the Hawks off to a solid start and with Teague being a big part of that, it’s going to be difficult for Drew to move him to the bench. If Teague does move out of the starting lineup however, don’t expect him to pout. Teague is more than willing to put the team before his personal agenda.
“I wanted to play and I’m getting an opportunity to play right now, hopefully it continues,” Teague stated. “Whatever is best for the team, whoever is playing well, I guess you go with that, but it’s all about winning.”