After several weeks of noise regarding the Atlanta Hawks having reported interest in improving this season’s roster, the organization made a deal for a familiar point guard on Thursday. As a result, former All-Star point guard Jeff Teague will return to play backup to presumed first-time All-Star Trae Young.
It has been well documented how healthy the Atlanta offense has been when Young has been on the court and how anemic is has been when he has not. Until the recent promotion of Brandon Goodwin — operating on a two-way contract — into the rotation, the Hawks have been playing without a natural point guard on their second unit. Teague gives them an experienced point guard to play with the reserves, which in and of itself, addresses the team’s most pressing need.
It’s probably safe to assume that Teague will do more than simply man the point guard position when Young is on the bench. The Hawks’ second-year starter averages more than 35 minutes per game. That would leave Teague approximately 13 minutes of action per night.
Young has been as good, better honestly, operating on the basketball as anyone could have hoped. He was second in the league in assists during his rookie season. He has been in the top five in the league in points and assists for the bulk of this season. And the scoring has come by way of impressive efficiency.
Could the arrival of Teague help him take a step up from where his production and effectiveness have been thus far this season?
Statistically, Young is an even more efficient scorer and deadly shooter when operating off of the ball. He’s in the top 1% in scoring in possessions classified as “off screen” (this excludes ball screen situations such as pick-and-roll sets). But that has accounted for less than 5% of his possessions that end in a shot, assist or turnover.
He has converted 52.5% of his catch-and-shoot attempts from three-point range. But, that reflects only 59 of his 350 attempts this season.
Atlanta runs, essentially, no “floppy” action (a favorite offensive set for teams with the most elite perimeter shooters in the league) and none for Young and none for Kevin Huerter. But that’s not to say they don’t value opportunities to get their best long-range shooters good shots as a result of off-ball screens. They just tend to use the defensive attention that their high pick-and-roll action demands to create those screens for their shooters on the weak side of the offensive formation.
From the play above, this set is a favorite. Huerter works with John Collins in the pick-and-roll while De’Andre Hunter works off of a screen from Vince Carter to get a very good look from the right corner.
Young also benefits when another ball handler can push the ball in transition, as seen on the play above. Turner pushes the ball which allows Young to find a comfortable spot against the opposing team’s transition defense.
The presence of the eminently experienced Teague could allow Young to take further and more frequent advantage of the opportunity these offensive sets and actions allow.
This could be good for his overall efficiency. However, it could also allow him to benefit from the overall reduced workload of the responsibility of serving as the Hawks’ primary (if not singular) ball handler and having to initiate such a significant volume of their offensive possessions.
It could also leave him more energy with which to work on possessions late in the fourth quarter. Opposing teams have, at times, been open about trying to wear the undersized Young down across the course of the game so he is easier to defend on those critical possessions when the game is in the balance in the final minutes of play.
He’s not the first small NBA point guard to get this type of treatment from opponents.
To date, Young is shooting 34.5% on field goal attempts and 29.2% on three-point attempts during “clutch” minutes, as defined by nba.com.
The other area of his play that could benefit from his sharing some amount of regular time on the floor with Teague could be on the defensive end of the court. His shortcomings in that phase have been well chronicled. On the other hand, any player that must handle such a massive amount of his team’s playmaking will, to some degree, understandably have to save some energy elsewhere, and often times that happens on the defensive end of the court.
In addition to elevating the offensive performance of Atlanta’s second unit, could the arrival of Teague allow the Hawks’ coaching staff to simply demand more effort from Young as a defender?
Much of this speculation as to how Teague’s arrival could play out depends upon one major variable – how much time with he and Young spend on the court together? And that, of course remains to be seen.
There are other interesting things to watch as Teague is added to the rotation. Such as whether or not Young and Huerter will have their playing time staggered less often now that they have a legitimate option to run the second unit offense.
But, considering how much of Atlanta’s future is tacked to the fortune of their starting point guard, nothing is more worth watching closely than how the presence of Teague will impact the way that Young is deployed by design and how differently that might look across the second half of the season than it did during the first half.