Kevin C. Cox
Danny Ferry's biggest offseason move was handing the reins of the Atlanta Hawks to Jeff Teague. With Joe Johnson gone, it's Teague's turn to run the team.
There was a point, not too long ago, when Atlanta Hawks fans were enamored by the prospect at Jeff Teague running the point. His speed, athleticism and ability to get to the rim was uncommon in a backcourt previously featuring Mike Bibby, and then Kirk Hinrich. But as it had been with previous head coach Mike Woodson, and continued on with current coach Larry Drew, Teague was delegated to the bench.
In his first two seasons, Teague started a combined 10 games, averaging just over 11 minutes per game. He made the most of his minutes though, playing tight defense, chasing down loose balls and attacking at any given opportunity. But there were points when Teague looked nothing like the supremely athletic guard he was labeled as. Stagnant in the offense, taking off-balance shots and looking lost on the defensive end was the occasional style of play from the second-year guard.
There was simply no consistency with him in limited action. But the potential was there and it was evident that he needed to be a critical piece in the continuously building structure of the Hawks organization. All it took was a right knee injury to Hinrich in the midst of a Game 6 playoff victory over the Orlando Magic to give Teague his golden opportunity.
Teague started the second round series against the Chicago Bulls, thoroughly impressing coaches and fans alike with his stifling defense of league-MVP Derrick Rose and scoring ability against one of the top defensive units in the league. Teague's efficient play throughout the series, despite injuries to both wrists, gave Drew the confidence in his young guard.
To start the 2012 season, Teague was inserted into the lineup as the starting point guard. He was relied on, consistently, for the first time in his professional career and was electric in his development. Teague connected on a career-high 47 percent of his shots. He averaged 12 points and almost five assists per game while playing 33 minutes a night.
Teague, along with franchise stalwarts Joe Johnson and Josh Smith, led the Hawks to the playoffs yet again, matching up with the Boston Celtics for the first time since 2008. They were ousted in six games, marking their second first-round exit in five years. Yet another exit was simply unacceptable and there was something missing in the evolution of the team. They didn't quite mesh together, with clashing styles of play and a lack of creativity when developing the roster.
As Marvin Williams returned from back surgery- something the Hawks raved about heading into the season- it was evident he would never mature into the type of player the Atlanta squad required to move to the next level. Johnson needed the ball in his hands to run the offense, or lack thereof. Iso-Joe was the norm at Philips Arena and the offense generally started or stopped with him. Smith wanted to run out in transition and take three's. Al Horford was content running and setting up in the post. Horford's early injury forced the Atlanta offense to mold together as the season developed, with Zaza Pachulia at the five. And in one swift motion, everything changed.
Danny Ferry was brought in as the new general manager, intent on unraveling the content culture in Atlanta. He moved Johnson to Brooklyn for a stockpile of players that would keep the Hawks in the playoff hunt, but were on one-year deals and would fit the uniform roster of complimentary players. Ferry flipped Williams for the Utah Jazz's Devin Harris. He continued a solid offseason spree by signing Lou Williams and sending the trade exception from the Joe Johnson trade to Bulls for the sharpshooting Kyle Korver.
And now, with a full offseason to work with, the team is Teague's. He will be at the point, running the offense and distributing the ball simultaneously for the first time in his career. Will Teague keep his combo-guard persona he developed in the backcourt with Johnson or will he transition into the traditional point guard while running a complete offensive set? Only time will tell, but if ever there were a time that Teague would take "the leap," it should be now. If he can do so, the Hawks could very well be looking further than the second round of the postseason for the first time since moving to Atlanta.