Look around the NBA right now at the creme de la creme of the point guard position: Russell Westbrook, Deron Williams, Chris Paul, Tony Parker, Jrue Holiday, Steve Nash, Damian Lillard, Kyrie Irving, pre-injury Rajon Rondo, post injury Derrick Rose, soon enough…
It’s no wonder that Jeff Teague is often completely overlooked and, frankly, forgotten about, as a result of learning the ropes on the fly for an Atlanta Hawks squad that is constantly labeled a first-round-and-out playoff team.
This might be his fourth season in the NBA, but when you think about Jeff Teague’s career up until this point it becomes clear: This is his first real chance to run an NBA offense and to maximize his abilities.
“He’s still learning. He didn’t play a lot his rookie year when (former coach Mike) Woodson was there and then Kirk Hinrich got hurt in the playoffs, and all of a sudden Teague was starting and he was awesome. Remember against Derrick Rose in that playoff series?!” exclaimed Lang Whitaker (a must follow on Twitter), editor-at-large for SLAM Magazine, writer for GQ and host of the NBA Hangtime podcast, who happens to be a former ATLien and watches the Hawks play with regularity.
When Hinrich went down, Teague, despite having never started a playoff game, filled in with ease against MVP Derrick Rose. He averaged 11.8 points (51.5% FG), 3.5 assists, 2.1 turnovers and just 1 turnover per game and outplayed Rose in the first two games, which proved to the Hawks that this kid meant business.
He just needed an opportunity.
“I could always shoot,” said Teague in regard to his jump shot following the Hawks heartbreaking 106-104 loss Monday to the Knicks at MSG. “In college that’s what I did, but I it’s really about opportunity. A lot of guys said, ‘He really couldn’t shoot when he first got in the league.’ It’s not true. If you get one shot a game and you miss it, people say you can’t shoot. When you get multiple chances at it, you become a better shooter.”
Just as his shooting was questioned, so too were his point-guard abilities: Could Teague lead an NBA franchise from the point guard position?
“He played a lot with Joe Johnson, and Joe had the ball in his hands a lot, so this is his first season to be able to dominate the ball,” stated Whitaker, exposing both a blessing and a curse for the Hawks point guard.
Last year Teague could rely on Joe Johnson to bring the ball up at times or make plays as the shot clock expired. This season, despite first year Hawks GM Danny Ferry bringing in Devin Harris and Lou Williams (out for the season with a torn ACL), Teague’s had more responsibility to run the show.
With more playing time and ball handling/playmaking responsibilities, there are more expectations.
“I would say Teague, when you watch him play there are times where he looks like an All-Star and there are times where you wonder where he is on the court,” said Whitaker. “He still can’t quite assert himself regularly. There’s also times where he’s not really driving to the basket where he doesn’t really know how to make a mark on the game.”
As Whitaker spoke, Teague was in the midst of a game that perfectly described this dilemma.