Quick quiz: what semi-successful players from the 2009 draft didn’t receive extensions in the days leading up to the season? You’re probably thinking of Tyreke Evans and/or Brandon Jennings, but forgetting the man who may just be the best of the unsigned players: Jeff Teague. His name isn’t flashy, but his play certainly is; he makes some of the most breathtakingly athletic plays you’ll see from a little man. And while his reputation is mostly built on these highlight plays, he has showed a more balanced game this season and been absolutely integral to the Hawks success.
Not only has he been immensely important to the Hawks, he’s improved almost every measurable part of his individual game. His usage rate has jumped over three points while his TS% has stayed steady (this is impressive because we usually expect a one point drop in TS% for each point usage increases). He came into the league with a rep as a guy who couldn’t shoot and he’s proved that false with his 38.9% three point shooting on 3.2 attempts per game, continuing a trend of improved shooting in nearly every season. Perhaps most importantly, Teague’s assist rate has spiked nearly 10 points and his decision making as a whole has been far better than in past years. Let’s take a closer look at his improved vision and decision making.
In the first two clips here, he takes a pick going towards the middle and is hedged. He aggressively tries to split the two defenders and turns the ball over. In the last clip, from this year, he sees the hedge from Nikola Vucevic and instead of trying to force his way around him or split the two defenders, he recognizes that Vucevic will be slow on his recovery to Al Horford and works to get him the ball. His improved patience in waiting for the roll man to open up has been huge.
He has also improved hitting the “outlet” man on the wing who against many team pick and roll defense schemes is wide open. In said schemes, both men being targeted in the pick and roll will hedge toward the ball handler, leaving the roller diving free to the rim. Subsequently, the defender on the wing or in the corner has to crash down into the lane and at least bump the roller. In the above clip, Teague reads that defender, then hits his open man on the wing.
This is another fairly simple pass, but it shows a ton of improvement. Instead of going up for what would be a tough finish, he recognizes where the help is coming from and dishes to the corner.
If Teague can stay on this path of development, the Hawks may regret not re-signing him. While he’ll likely never be a star player, he’s a great game manager (while that’s often used as a pejorative, here it’s a compliment) who can do everything required out of a championship caliber point guard. What type of offer sheet he gets in restricted free agency this summer is an under the radar storyline to keep your eye on. The Hawks have copious amounts of cap space and dreams of max free agents, but Teague is an important part of their future as well.