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Analysis: Jeff Teague, Treveon Graham fit into Hawks’ current needs without sacrificing any future

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NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Sacramento Kings Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks pulled off an intriguing trade in the early afternoon Thursday, sending Allen Crabbe to the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for Jeff Teague and Treveon Graham. All three players are on expiring contracts and will hit unrestricted free agency in July 2020, which therefore makes this trade much more about the present than the future.

Teague has performed as a highly effective backup point guard for Minnesota this season, ranking above the 80th percentile in several offensive categories, per Cleaning the Glass. Some of the notable areas he has thrived in have been assist percentage (90th percentile), assist usage (93rd percentile), and points per shot attempt (83rd percentile). Teague was a starting-caliber player for the bulk of the previous decade, and the transition into veteran backup point guard this season has gone well.

While he is not the explosive finisher he once was — he is only shooting 53 percent at the rim this season, in the 28th percentile for point guards — Teague still has the tools necessary to help run the second unit for Atlanta. He has been an effective midrange player this season, shooting 42 percent from that area across 127 attempts. Perhaps most importantly, he has hit 37.9 percent from three-point range this season, which is second to only Kevin Huerter’s 40.1 percent on the Hawks. He will instantly become the best shooter and playmaker on what has been a less than stellar Atlanta second unit. As a point guard, a lot of his shots have come off the dribble this year and Teague is having a strong year as a pull-up shooter.

Minnesota scored 110.6 points per 100 possessions with Teague on the floor this season and were significantly better when he was out there, to the tune of a +7.3 offensive on/off rating, a mark that puts him in the 90th percentile again among point guards. Defensively, the club did give up 1.4 more points per 100 possessions with him out there, hinting he may not shore up many of those issues for Atlanta at this point in his career.

Graham had fallen out of the rotation in recent weeks as the Timberwolves have intensified their focus on the development of rookie Jarrett Culver. The fourth-year 3-and-D project has struggled immensely from three-point range this season, shooting only 24.1 percent across 83 attempts this season. He is also struggling just as much going to the rim, which was never his strong suit, as he is shooting 44 percent at the rim this season, all the way down in the sixth percentile among forwards.

Graham showed prowess from three-point range in limited action two seasons ago with Charlotte, but has struggled to regain that stroke ever since. Nonetheless, it costs the Hawks nothing but the cash they’ll pay him to bring him in. He represents another switchable defender at 6’6, and figures to slot in somewhere in the Hawks mix of wing depth with DeAndre’ Bembry behind the likes of De’Andre Hunter, Kevin Huerter and Cam Reddish. Then again, Atlanta’s side of this trade was primarily about getting Teague, with Graham perhaps thrown in as a small cash savings for the Wolves. Given how poorly Graham has played this year for Minnesota, it wouldn’t necessarily be a surprise if the Hawks cut him loose in favor of an open roster spot.

On the salary cap, the trade is essentially a neutral move for the Hawks. They add a little more than $2 million in team salary, though it’ll cost ownership less than $1 million in actual cash since we’re already more than halfway through the season. Their salary cap space is cut from $4.8 million to $2.6 million, giving them a bit less flexibility as they look for further trades involving Chandler Parsons and Evan Turner. Both Teague and Graham were acquired with cap space, which means they can be aggregated in a future trade immediately — if Atlanta wanted to trade Teague and Turner for a player making more than $30 million, they could do that. If Atlanta had not had cap space to do this deal, that sort of hypothetical wouldn’t be possible.

Teague and Graham will both be free agents this summer, when Atlanta will be flush with cash. Should one or both play well in their roles for the Hawks, they could be brought back, but at this point, the Hawks have not changed their future financial situation in any meaningful way.

With all three deals in the trade expiring, this trade does not do much to impact the future of either franchise. Crabbe was (very) likely never sticking around past this season for Atlanta, and the same can probably be said for Teague in Minnesota. Graham represents another body for Pierce to tinker with in the short-term future, but realistically he will not be a high priority for any team this summer, Hawks or otherwise. It’s certainly possible that Teague meshes well with the second unit, and even plays decent in small stretches next to Young, perhaps well enough to make Atlanta want him back next season as the backup point. For now, however, this trade likely represents rentals on all fronts.