With training camp right around the corner, the 2015-2016 NBA season is quickly approaching, and that means the return of the Atlanta Hawks. There is a certain level of increased enthusiasm surrounding the team after a 60-win campaign and a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals, and with that, it is time to take a deep dive in to what to expect from the roster.
Today, we will kick off our season preview with a look at the team's point guards, and this is a spot where depth is not an issue for Mike Budenholzer's club. Let's get to it, beginning with 2015 All-Star Jeff Teague.
Just one year ago, the jury was out on Jeff Teague. I personally expressed some anxiety with Teague's development in this very space, calling the 2014-2015 season "a big year for Jeff Teague" and saying that "if he is going to make the leap, the time is now".
At least I got something right.
Teague produced the best season of his career at the age of 26, posting career-bests in assist rate (37.9%), true shooting percentage (56.6%) and PER (20.6). His counting numbers were also quite strong, with 15.9 points and 7.0 assists per game (in 30.5 minutes), and as a package, Teague produced at a level that I was previously was skeptical he would ever reach.
Perhaps the biggest development for Teague was on the defensive end, where he improved from below-average to above-average in one season. Some have overstated his growth in assuming that he is now a "lockdown" option defensively, but even if that isn't true, Teague uses his length and quickness appropriately to stay in front of defenders while decreasing the volume in which he suffers mental lapses.
In addition, Teague's contract is fantastic for Atlanta. He is set to make just $8 million per season through 2016-2017, and that is one of the better values at the position in the entire NBA. Teague's ceiling may have been reached last season, but if he can simply repeat his performance, the Hawks will have a top-12 point guard who outperforms his contract in a big way.
That seems like a win.
While the pressure may not be cooking to the point where Jeff Teague was 12 months ago, this is an important season for Dennis Schröder. Because Teague exists ahead of him and both players expire at the same time (2016-2017), the Hawks may be forced to make a decision regarding the future at the point guard position after this season, and keeping both in the long-term may be impossible.
That may seem like a lot of pressure on a 22-year-old, but Schröder seems up for the challenge.
Like Teague ahead of him, Schröder made huge strides a season ago, transforming from a virtually unplayable "kid" to one of the better backup point guards in the league. Detractors would point to a woeful stretch in the playoffs as "evidence" of his shortcomings, but a step back would reveal that Schröder's performance for the full season was encouraging.
He put together a strong PER (15.7) despite questionable efficiency (42.7% FG) and much of that can be attributed to a nice bump in his long-distance shooting (35.1% from three). Schröder will likely never be a knockdown shooter, but that is more than acceptable given his other strengths, and the Hawks would gladly accept a repeat performance. Perhaps more importantly, though, Schröder's ball security greatly improved, resulting in a large jump in his assist rate (34.6%) with a sharp dip in his turnover rate (16.8%).
On the defensive end, Schröder is overrated at this point. His "German Rondo" pedigree and high-end length and athleticism proceed him, and while he was much better as a sophomore, Schröder is inconsistent and choppy on defense. Maturity in that area will come in time, but until he proves it, Teague is the better player on defense, even as Schröder undoubtedly possesses more upside.
It will be very interesting to see what the Hawks can extract from Schröder in his third season. Given Teague's presence, there is a certain ceiling on Schröder's minutes, but Mike Budenholzer does have the ability to play both point guards together in the backcourt, and that should help in giving the young point guard room to grow. Decision time is approaching and, hopefully, Schröder will perform in a way that puts pressure on the organization to at least conjure debate between the two point guards.
After something of a "breakout" season in 2013-2014, Shelvin Mack's took a step back in role last season, ceding the backup point guard reins to Schröder. Schröder is unquestionably the better player at this point, but at the same time, Mack is exceedingly overqualified as a third point guard, and that is a nice problem to have for Budenholzer and his staff.
Mack has posted identical PER numbers (13.2) in each of his two full seasons in Atlanta, despite the fact that his shooting regressed in 2014-2015. His 40.1% clip from the field and 31.5% mark from three-point distance (48.9% TS) were a bit troublesome in that he spent some of his court time at shooting guard, but provided that those marks rebound closer to the previous year (41.7% FG, 33.7% 3-PT), they would be acceptable given his role and usage.
In a perfect world, Mack would play a very similar role for the upcoming season, appearing in roughly half of the team's games while playing somewhere between 12 and 15 minutes per contest in those games. Because of Schröder's emergence, Mack doesn't need to be a member of the every night "rotation", but if the wings struggle and Schröder plays more alongside Teague, the Hawks wouldn't lose much if forced to insert Mack on a more regular basis.
He certainly isn't spectacular, but Shelvin Mack would be among the top half of the league's backup point guards, so having the former Butler as the third guy in the pecking order is something that no one should complain about for the Hawks.