Playing without your best player is never easy. The Chicago Bulls have had to deal with life without their star for almost two full seasons now. The Atlanta Hawks may not immediately come to mind, but had Al Horford not suffered his first season-ending injury during a lockout-shortened season the Hawks could really relate to what the Bulls are going through. Even though the Bulls have been without Rose more than the Hawks have been without Horford how their respective teams have responded has definitely been similar. The majority of both fan bases probably would prefer to sell at the deadline this year to try and get a good pick in this loaded NBA draft. The problem? The roster around the two teams is still good and well-coached enough to make the playoffs. Both Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau and Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer are going to continue to play their best players significant minutes because they're good coaches who can make due without their stars -- and that makes them really good at their job. However, the absence of a team's best player typically leads to an increased role for the players who aren't quite the best players on the team -- but are now looked at to fill that high-usage role. Certain players can handle it, while others can't. If Jeff Teague's below-average play this month without Horford continues on for the rest of the season it still shouldn't be a major concern long-term.
There is nothing wrong with being a really good player who can't handle a high-usage rate -- just look at Rudy Gay's numbers since being traded to Sacramento. His role was reduced and he's benefited majorly from it. On the flip side, Horford is out for the season so Paul Millsap and Teague's usage rates have shot up. Teague's career average USG% is 20.5 percent. In January, Teague's USG% is 28.8 percent -- LeBron James' 2013-14 USG% is 29.5 percent. Since Teague's rise in USG% his numbers have sputtered.
Teague has an ORtg of just 85 this month -- that's bad. For a player as good as Teague is a lot would have to go wrong for his ORtg to be that poor. Teague has a FG% of 37.5 percent, a 3PT% of 13.6 percent, a TS% of 44 percent and averaging just 5.5 APG. If Teague was putting up these kinds of numbers in November and December with Horford in the lineup this would be a major problem -- but that's not the case. Teague is going through a tough stretch without his pick-and-roll partner and team's best player so his assist numbers should be expected to go down. Sure, it'd be nice to see Teague elevate his game to another with Horford gone -- but that's not the case.
Expecting Teague to become a consistently-aggressive player with Horford sidelined would be great -- it would. We've seen what happens when Teague takes advantage of his speed and plays at a quick pace. Maybe not as much as fans would like -- but he's still just 25-years-old. We've already seen positive results from Teague's work with assistant coach Quinn Snyder and if the coaching staff stays mostly intact for the next couple of years Teague should continue to progress as a point guard.
Before Horford went down, Teague was putting together all-star caliber numbers. Since, he's obviously struggled and is probably not going to make the team. Teague's having to do more than he's comfortable with at this point, which should have been expected and accepted. Teague has been thrust into the second-option role with Horford out and when Millsap's struggling it's easy to look at Teague and expect more -- but that's not really fair. Teague may get to the point where he can still be efficient and have a star-level USG% -- but if he doesn't that doesn't mean he can't be an integral part of the Hawks going forward.
The Hawks are struggling without Horford and that's okay because they should -- Horford was the team's best player this season. What that also means is players who benefit greatly from his presence on the court, Teague specifically, should be expected to struggle. When a team's star player goes role players, even above-average guys like Teague, weaknesses start to become more apparent. If Teague's January struggles continue into February, March and even into the playoffs it wouldn't be reason to hit the panic button because Horford is that valuable to the Hawks -- and that's okay.