The 2019-20 NBA season isn’t “over” but, with the coronavirus pandemic placing the season in a suspended mode, there is a distinct chance that the Atlanta Hawks won’t be playing again this season. With that as the backdrop, the Peachtree Hoops crew will look back at the players still on the roster and how they performed in the team’s first 67 games.
The fourth installment focuses on veteran point guard Jeff Teague.
The Atlanta Hawks were always rolling the dice heading into the 2019-20 season with their point guard situation.
On media day, prior to training camp, both Hawks President of Basketball Operations Travis Schlenk and head coach Lloyd Pierce talked about Atlanta’s backup point guard position, and how Evan Turner could serve as a backup point guard, how two-way player Brandon Goodwin could act as their point guard, in addition to the ‘committee’ approach the Hawks would take with regard the backup point guard position.
“One of the things I’ve said repeatedly is my ideal vision of our team is having multiple guys who can handle the ball, that can make plays,” said Schlenk on media day. “You’ve seen that in the way we’ve drafted and the guys we’ve signed. So maybe we don’t have, quote-unquote, a traditional backup point guard. We did sign Brandon (Goodwin) to a two-way contract and we kind of have him penciled in as our third point guard but when you talk about a guy like Evan (Turner), who’s not a point guard but he’s best with the ball in his hands, posting up smaller guards, making plays, good facilitator all the way back to college.
“I talked about Cam earlier in the draft process, he played a lot of point guard in college and AAU so he’s used to playing with the ball. Kevin Huerter, last year Lloyd gave some opportunities there — we want to try to expand his game. And DeAndre’ Bembry played some there last year. So we feel real confident that maybe we not one guy but do it by platoon so to speak.”
“...the bottom line is we have a bunch of guys in Cam, DeAndre’ Bembry, Kevin Huerter, Evan Turner, Brandon Goodwin in addition to Trae,” Pierce said. “If three or four of those guys are on the court together, two or three — Jabari Parker is another guy — you can put the ball in their hands and they’re able to make plays for other players, that’s the most important part. It’s not a matter of who’s initiating the offense, it’s how many guys within your offense can make plays for others. So that’s really the key focus. I have no worries about the depth of what it looks like.”
This, perhaps, sounded fine in theory but in actuality...it just didn’t really work out.
Evan Turner’s lingering Achilles issues meant his appearances in the opening month of the season were limited, but truth be told even after that, it became clear that Turner just didn’t fit in Atlanta — nor did he play especially well — so it didn’t take long for him to be removed from the fray and rack up the DNP-CD’s. Huerter battled some injury issues throughout the early part of the season and his time was limited, and Goodwin was a two-way player, meaning his time with the Hawks be limited due to the nature of his contract and the Hawks would be limited in their use of Goodwin.
The upshot was that the Turner experiment didn’t work and the Hawks weren’t able to get the job done by committee.
It also meant that when Trae Young off of the floor, the Hawks’ offense was, to put it lightly, not good, sporting an offensive rating of 90.7 when Young was off the floor (as of the Jeff Teague trade report on Jan. 16). When Young left the court, you’d just pray that the Hawks wouldn’t be beaten too badly, and anything other than that was a win for the Hawks when Young was off the floor.
On Jan. 16, news broke that the Hawks had acquired Teague, in exchange for Allen Crabbe. This was a win-win for the Hawks, as Teague was not only an expiring contract — like Crabbe — but it meant that the Hawks, finally, had a competent backup point guard, and a starting calibre point guard at that, to provide a boost for the Hawks.
While Teague, as one would expect for joining mid-season, struggled a little at the beginning, the veteran proved to be an excellent pick up for a player who was always going to leave in the summer in the form of Crabbe.
One of the things the Hawks seriously lacked this season was a group of veterans who were an actual part of the rotation.
The Hawks, essentially, only had Vince Carter as a veteran presence on the court (Turner’s time was limited, as were Crabbe and Chandler Parsons, to be fair, did eventually see some playing time). With the addition of Teague, it gave the Hawks a player who has run competent offenses as a starting point guard and has had playoff experience.
Teague’s stats with the Hawks won’t wow you: in 25 games with the Hawks, Teague averaged 7.7 points per game on 41% shooting from the field on six attempts, 33% from three on 1.2 attempts per game, four assists and two rebounds per game.
The Hawks can be thankful that Young didn’t miss a ton of games but when he was sidelined for a game, the Hawks had a reliable option in the form of Teague to fill in.
One of Teague’s strengths is his assist/turnover ratio. In his time with the Hawks, Teague averaged four assists and 1.6 turnovers per game — one of his better qualities, especially for a team, like the Hawks, who just die when it comes to turnovers (ranking dead last in turnovers per game).
Teague also helped give the Hawks’ offense a lift when Young wasn’t on the floor, which is obviously the big reason for the trade.
From Jan. 16, the Hawks’ offensive rating when Young was off the floor was 103.2, up from 90.7. The net rating for when Young was off the floor was still -9.4, but that figure marks a significant increase from the -14.1 net rating prior to the trade — though, it is of course worth mentioning that the figure with Teague in the mix comes from a smaller sample, 41 games compared to 26.
Teague also ended up becoming a dependable member for the Hawks in his short time back with the team. Towards the end of the season, Pierce often ran with a shortened rotation in the second half of games. Usually this involved Young, Huerter, Cam Reddish, De’Andre Hunter, John Collins, Dewayne Dedmon and Teague — these were the seven players that Pierce would depend upon and lean on more in the second half and in a close game.
One fault you could have with Teague is his three-point shooting — 33% on 1.2 attempts per game. Much is made of three-point shooting but just because Teague doesn’t take a ton nor make a ton shouldn’t detract — arguably not much as some people make it out to be — from his game and what he brings as a point guard. It hurts less in a backup role than a starting role but for what the Hawks need, I don’t think Teague’s shooting is a disaster.
The Hawks and Pierce were in the process of trying to extract more from Teague from this point of view. Pierce talked about how the Hawks wanted Teague to attempt four threes a game, and how Pierce would get onto Teague for not shooting it more.
“There’s still this untapped part of Jeff’s game that we’re trying to get out,” said Pierce of Teague after a February victory over the Miami Heat. “He was tremendous tonight. He hits the three but he was also 3-for-3 in the first half. He’s 3-to-1 in assist to turnovers in our team right now. I think there’s so much more we can get out of him and that’s what I’m doing. I’m challenging him every day. He’s supposed to shoot four threes a game, so I’m yelling at him all the time to get them up. He’s been good, we just want him to be better. We just want him to be great.”
Reluctance was an issue with Teague when it came to shooting. It’s admirable that a player knows his strengths and weaknesses but there were times where Teague turned down some good looking shots and passed the ball away.
As well as searching for a little more shooting from Teague, Pierce wanted Teague to use his speed to attack more.
“One of the things we’re trying to do is get him to play downhill more where he’s not probing but attacking,” said Pierce of Teague after a loss in Boston, where Teague started alongside Young. “I thought he did a good job. He got himself going with some steals and deflections which got him some easy layups, and from there in the half-court, tried to carry-over that same momentum and that same attack mentality. I think his speed is tremendous, I just want him to use it a little bit more.”
Teague’s future in Atlanta is obviously uncertain.
Teague is a free agent this summer and is at an interesting point in his career, where the best option for a team employing him might be to have him back up another point guard off of the bench but still play 25-27 minutes a night. I definitely think the Hawks could stand to benefit from re-signing Teague, and they have the Bird Rights and cap space to bring him back if the price is right.
It’s unclear right now how the Hawks feel about Teague returning and it’s also unclear where Teague himself stands at this point in his career. Anyone who watched the Hawks with and without a competent backup point guard will know what Teague brought to the fold, and I certainly think the Hawks could look to bring him back.
Will Jeff Teague’s second stint in Atlanta be a layover or something more?
Time will tell.