Atlanta Hawks fans know the story. The Hawks traded Acie Law and a basically retired Craig “Speedy” Claxton for Jamal Crawford the morning before selecting Jeff Teague in the first round of the 2009 NBA draft.
Coach Mike Woodson seemingly had an affinity for veteran point guards and was determined to fit a square peg in a round hole. That 2009-10 season, he shunned meaningful chances for true point guard Teague in place of a Jamal Crawford-Joe Johnson backcourt. Coach Larry Drew carried on this practice into the next season, even after the Hawks replaced the rapidly declining Mike Bibby with an actual defensive resistance in Kirk Hinrich.
Fast forward to the 2012-13 season. Jeff Teague finally has a year’s experience of starting for a team with a top four record in the Eastern Conference. Last season, he started all 66 games for the Atlanta Hawks. His 2183 minutes played were the 16th most last season among all NBA players. He finished the 2012 season with 12.6 points, 4.9 assists, 2.4 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game as well as 9th in the Most Improved Player voting.
Those 1.6 steals per game put Teague in the top ten in totals steal and steals per game. This comes as no surprise. His trademark of trailing guards coming off of picks his produced boom or bust results during his short stint in the association. Unfortunately, his defense has declined due to his excessive gambling. According to Synergy’s stats, Jeff Teague is giving up .96 points per play overall and .86 PPP guarding the pick and roll handler. Compare that to Lou Williams, generally known as a poor defender, and his marks of .78 PPP overall and .63 on the pick and roll handler and there seems to be a large downside to trailing the dribbler, as Teague has been known to do in an attempt to pick his pocket.
Could he possibly be making up for his somewhat lazy approach on defense on offense? His assist rate is up significantly compared to last season and is currently averaging a career best 6.7 assists per game. However, his shooting numbers have dropped significantly when compared to his marks from last season. Per Basketball-Reference, his True Shooting Percentage and Effective Field Goal Percentage have gone from 2% above league average to 2% below (55.1% to 51.1%) and his eFG similarly from about 2.5% above to 1.5% below (51.4% to 47.6%). In addition, his PER has declined although it suggests he remains at least a league average player. This is as his USG% increases by being more of a focal point in the offense without Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams.
His Synergy stats give more insight into what areas he has performed poorly. Overall, he generates .85 points per possession on offense. His top four plays by declining percentage are as the Pick and Roll ball handler (34.6%), Transition (22.7%), Isolation (16.2), and Spot-Up attempts (11.5). Respectively, those four areas have translated into .67, 1.11, .68, and 11.6 points per play.
Essentially, these stats reinforce and help quantify our knowledge of the areas Teague excels in and those in need of attention. His 1.6 steals per game have translated into many run-out opportunities wherein Jeff has been known to throw down with ease. However, given that fast-break opportunities often favor the offense, his PPP total does not even rank in the top 100 among ranked players in the NBA. Regarding his spot up abilities, given space Teague has shown he can knock down open shots at a robust rate.
Unfortunately, the negatives outweigh the positives. Handling the ball on pick and rolls and in isolation plays account for over 50% of his plays despite garnering close to .67 points per game between the two. This may provide answers for an underachieving Atlanta offense. Despite the ball-stopping tendencies of Joe Johnson, removing him from the equation creates a situation on the Hawks of only one accomplished playmaker. Lou Williams has been the only guard to provide ball handling and production, providing .99 points per possession in comparison to Teague. Essentially, Synergy is rating Lou Williams as clearly more productive on both sides of the ball. Even Devin Harris in his limited minutes is rated as producing more points per play on offense and limiting the oppositions to less points per play than has Teague. It is troubling, to say the least, that Jeff Teague cannot outproduce his older counterparts.
The diagnosis is clear but the remedy is more muddled. I do not profess to be Larry Drew nor do I know what he and his assistant coaches see on a day-to-day basis in practices and before and after games. But there is a problem if fans were expecting a jump in production in Jeff Teague’s push for a contract payday. This is not to say he cannot turn it around as we move toward the All-Star break as Teague has certainly not been the first point guard in the NBA to have disappointing years, but it is a legitimate worry as the Hawks move ahead.
Look for Teague to try to get on track tomorrow in Minnesota against the Timberwolves.