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Atlanta Hawks: Mike Bibby & The Point Guard Position

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Mike Bibby has been slumping, AJC Hawks beat writer Michael Cunningham wonders if it is because he has worn down after being almost 33 years old and playing in over 1000 NBA games in his career. After a wonderful shooting start to the season, Bibby's percentages have fallen in each month. Perhaps tired legs are a factor.  

"It’s different," he said. "I can definitely feel . . . I am not going to say I feel my age. Because what I still do out there is I’ve catered myself to the roll of taking care of the team and making sure everybody is doing what they need to be doing and making sure they have fun and do what it takes to win."

Mike Bibby has played in all 51 games for the Hawks this season and is averaging 30 minutes per contest. As Cunningham touches on in his article, Bibby is less valuable to the ball club when his shot isn't going in and lately it hasn't been. In February alone, Bibby has connected on just 4-15 three point shots. His defensive liabilities have been well chronicled and while he does at times bring a calming presence to the Hawks half court execution, is it worth the difference? Bibby thinks so as he told Cunningham.

"Everybody looks at it like I am not scoring as much, but I really don’t have to," Bibby said. "We’ve got three All-Stars [he's counting Josh] and the sixth man of the year. My job is not to score. My main thing I want to do is when that ball makes it around to me, make the shot and kind of spread the floor for them."

What the article doesn't touch on is the Hawks other options at the point guard position. Shortly after Larry Drew took the Hawks coaching job, he called for a much bigger role for Jeff Teague. After an injury plagued training camp for Teague, that bigger role hasn't transpired. In fact Jamal Crawford has seen a lot of time as the Hawks back up point guard this season. In fact it is Crawford's presence that is helping to crowd out Teague from the backcourt picture. Consider that the reigning Sixth Man of the Year is averaging 31 minutes off the bench with those being spread across both guard positions. Atlanta's other shooting guard, Joe Johnson is averaging 36.5 minutes per contest with a portion also being spent at the small forward position. That doesn't leave a lot of minutes on the table for a player like Teague. 

Is it time to free Jeff Teague? By reducing Bibby's minutes Atlanta could keep him fresher for the stretch run and the playoffs. They could also go with Crawford a little more on nights when he has it going offensively. One thing that Teague brings that neither Bibby nor Crawford does is the lateral quickness to be a good defender which Atlanta's backcourt is sorely missing at the point guard position. It comes down to trust, and for whatever reason, coach Drew has yet to fully entrust Teague with regular minutes or even a regular role in the rotation. 

Hoopinion's Bret LaGree breaks down Teague's performance this season and the results are surprising given the limited minutes:

The point isn't how well Jeff Teague has been playing. He hasn't, really. The point is that Mike Bibby, despite his experience, the loyalty of the coaching staff, regular minutes, and the benefit of playing the vast majority of his minutes alongside the team's best players, has not been sufficiently more productive than his second-year teammate.

Lagree adds:

There's been little in Teague's performance or in his head coach's treatment of him this season that suggests he is the franchise's point guard of the future. That doesn't mean he isn't likely the franchise's best point guard of the present some nights.

For the second straight year it seems that Atlanta doesn't know what it has in Jeff Teague. Just last night while watching the Grizzlies-Lakers match-up I noticed rookie point guard Greivis Vasquez get back up minutes behind Mike Conley for the Grizzlies. Memphis isn't in the position the Hawks are in but they are fighting for a playoff spot and were taking on the world champs. In fact Vasquez has played in 46 of the Grizzlies first 52 games averaging 13 minutes per contest. Vasquez was also a bubble first round pick and didn't come into the league with near the pedigree of Jeff Teague. Will be interesting to see how Vasquez's role changes with the recent acquisition of Jason Williams

My comparison to the Grizzlies might be considered a stretch, but while watching I couldn't help but think if Vasquez can get minutes, then why not Jeff Teague? Perhaps ultimately he isn't the answer but can that question be accurately answered by evaluating practice time and the limited minutes he has received? It doesn't seem fair that a player can fail when he has never really been given an opportunity to succeed. 

Sometimes I think Mike Bibby's contributions to this franchise get lost in his defensive shortcomings. With his arrival, he helped the Hawks get to the level they are at now by offering many intangibles in addition to his long distance shooting. It just seems that the Hawks are missing out on an opportunity to provide Bibby with the back up player that compliments his weaknesses in Jeff Teague. The good thing is there is still time. Perhaps sometimes you just have to go with it and see what happens.