Jeff Teague is an extremely talented basketball player.
This is nothing new for long-time fans of the Atlanta Hawks who have followed the now 26-year-old point guard through five-plus seasons in the NBA. However, skeptics have been reluctant to buy in to Teague as a legitimate "star" in the league, even as he is being mentioned in the conversation for a bid in this season's All-Star game.
Until this season, virtually any in-depth assessment of Jeff Teague had to be quantified by one simple question. What Jeff Teague were we getting? The highs were incredibly high, as "PLAYOFF TEAGUE" became a talking point for local and national media when he took over a game at a critical juncture, but the valleys were equally vexing, as Teague demonstrated mental lapses, especially on defense, to the point where he was rendered a non-factor in multiple games each season.
2014-2015 has changed all that, and the correlation between Teague's play and Atlanta's overwhelming success cannot be overstated. The 6-foot-2 guard is leading the team in scoring (17.5 points per game) and assists (7.2 per game) with career-highs in both categories, but his play has also been marked by increased efficiency. Because his style of attacking play has remained consistent, Teague has been able to increase his field goal percentage (career-best 48.6%) while getting to the free throw line more than five times per game, and that has facilitated a jump in his overall production.
"Aggressive Teague" is the narrative that many, including myself, have driven. There is certainly something accurate about Teague's consistency being driven by a more commanding approach, but in the same breath, his visible development as a floor leader is encouraging. Mike Budenholzer has been vocal at times (at least when prompted) about his desire for increased consistency from Teague on both ends, and when asked about his steady play following Atlanta's win over Memphis on Wednesday.
"That’s what we keep pushing Jeff on, and I think he’s made a lot of progress. His defense is where I really think… if you put that effort and that energy in there, it just kind of carries over to that other end. He is gifted offensively and he’s making some good things happen for himself and for his team."'
While the great majority of fans focus on the offensive end, coaches and especially Budenholzer pay greater mind to the defensive side of things. Teague is not an All-NBA level defender by any stretch of the imagination, but with that on the table, his improvement has been evident this season. There are size and strength concerns with Jeff in keeping opponents out of the lane, but his positioning has been vastly improved and there are fewer instances of simply "falling asleep" on that end this season.
Consistency is what that comes back to, and that is the biggest reason that some see Jeff Teague as the team's best player right now. It is easy to trumpet his accomplishments on the heels of six consecutive 20-point games and a 14-point, 11-assist double-double in Detroit, but the fact that Teague's valleys have not been pronounced this season does wonders for the overall consistency and performance level of this team.
Jeff Teague may not be a bonafide superstar, but he is ascending into star territory while being the "go-to" offensive player on the best team in the Eastern Conference. His performance will be telling over the second half of this season, but with consistency as the backdrop, his overall quality of play is ascending in a hurry.