The Atlanta Hawks went into the 2010-11 season with Mike Bibby starting at point, and then going to a backcourt of Jamal Crawford, the reigning 6th man of the year at that time, and Joe Johnson for much of the game. The 19th overall pick of the 2009 NBA Draft, Jeff Teague, had a hard time even sniffing occasional minutes. Both Bibby and Crawford were pretty efficient scorers (.570 and .545 TS% respectively) but brutally ineffective at stopping opponent point guard’s lane penetration and were too small to defend isolations at the arc or in the post.
Eventually, the Hawks front office saw perimeter defense as a priority, and decided to send Mike Bibby and other parts to the Wizards to get Kirk Hinrich, a former NBA All-Defensive Second Team with the ability to guard 1 and 2 guards. Though Jeff Teague showed flashes in the interval between sending away Bibby and inserting Kirk Hinrich into the starting lineup, Jeff returned to being on the fringe of the lineup rotation after that. On the final play of the decisive Game 6 first round victory over the 4th seeded Orlando Magic, Hinrich came up lame, injuring his hamstring and missing the rest of the playoffs. Jeff Teague was thrust into the starting lineup in a matchup with the top seeded Chicago Bulls across from the 2010-11 NBA MVP, Derrick Rose. He more than held his own offensively and defensively, scoring almost 15 points per game on .537 FG% shooting and playing good defense on the ever-elusive Rose. It signaled the start of a new point guard era in Atlanta. Jamal was let go to free agency, mostly for salary cap reasons, and Jannero Pargo, a shoot-first journeyman, was signed bringing the point guard core to Teague, Hinrich and Pargo and a short tenure of D-Leaguer Donald Sloan.
Jeff Teague thrived in his first longtime starting opportunity in the association, with a shooting mark of 514 eFG% and solid defense. His raw athleticism allowed him to blow by most opposing point guards and get to the rim, as well as anticipate bad passes, pick them off, and finish in transition. In fact, Teague was able to pick up a few votes in the NBA Most Improved Player award, finishing tied for ninth, even though in reality the only improvement was his playing time, as evidenced by his per minute statistics. Essentially, it was his first season with regular minutes, totaling more minutes in the 66 games this season than his first two seasons combined. The NBA has proved to be a tough league for young point guards and in a league with many great floor generals, he proved himself as at least a league average starting point guard, leaving the Hawks to wonder why they couldn’t find him more playing time before and regretting the lost experience he could have had.
Kirk Hinrich not only had to battle back from a hamstring injury suffered in the 2011 playoffs, but also an offseason injury to his left shoulder, and the subsequent surgery, caused him to miss the first 18 games of the season. As mentioned earlier, Hinrich has been a gritty veteran defender for his tenure in the NBA, but upon return to the club, it was his usually reliable long range scoring that had yet to come around. For the first 20 games he played this season, he shot a paltry .351 from the field, including .273 from behind the arc. He eventually turned that around and shot .453 overall and .380 from behind the arc for the final 48 games. He also threw in a good Game 1 against Boston in the postseason, going 4 for 6 from long range, but was largely quiet for the rest of the series. As a reliable option off the bench at both guard spots, he still has the ability to help a team offensively and defensively, even with 11 NBA seasons under his belt.
Jannero Pargo was last seen with the Chicago Bulls in the 2009-10 season as a deep point guard reserve, but the Hawks decided to offer a veteran minimum contract even after a year without an NBA appearance. Along with Willie Green, he played the role as bench spark plug, sometimes picking up the first team when they struggled putting in buckets. Larry Drew gave him free range to take comfortable shots, and ended up shooting as efficiently as he ever had (.539 eFG5 and .520 TS%) in a career stemming back to 2002. The similarities to past Hawks, Ronald “Flip” Murray and Jamal Crawford, are striking in having a career shooting season in the Hawks’ wide-open offensive scheme, and it was able to cover up his defensive liabilities for most of the season. His playoff experience was very different, as the veteran Celtics team took away his ability to get off uncontested shots and exposed his defensive ineptitude.
The point guard position started out as a problematic area heading into the 2011-12 season, with inexperienced, injured, and/or flat out questionable players expected to man the position. However, with the growth of Jeff Teague and the re-emergence of Hinrich and Pargo, it became a strong area on the team. Jeff Teague is a restricted free agent after the 2012-13 season and it would be wise for the Hawks to hold on to him long term because of the promise shown this season. Both Jannero Pargo and Kirk Hinrich have stated their pleasure of playing basketball in Atlanta this season, but both are free agents this offseason. I suspect Pargo comes back on another veteran’s minimum deal, but Kirk would have to take a significant pay cut from what he made in 2011-12 to come back, due to the cap situation. It’s a tossup whether he returns, and if he doesn’t, the Hawks should look towards the draft, free agency, or the NBDL for an able point guard, lest they have total faith in Jannero Pargo or another veteran minimum as the primary backup.
Overall Grade: B+