Coming into this season, Jeff Teague had a lot of expectations that he was expected to reach. With Joe Johnson out of the picture, would he be able to run the offense? Could he take that “next step” that is so often talked about of rising players?
While this was Teague’s fourth season, something was often forgotten about Jeff: this was only his second season as a starter, and really his first where he would be operating on a larger leash. Even if he had Devin Harris – and Lou Williams for the first half of the season – to back him up, Teague would still be expected to be the team’s leading playmaker and one of the leading scorers.
In many ways, Teague lived up to these expectations. Per-36, he was averaging 16 points and almost eight assists, numbers that only Chris Paul, Tony Parker, and John Wall were able to match. Jeff finished the season tied for fifth in 20-point/10-assist games, with only LeBron James, Paul, Parker, and Deron Williams ahead of him. (he was tied with Steph Curry with 10 of those games) And despite taking more shots and free throw attempts than he ever has in his pro career, he was able to improve on his three-point and free-throw percentages.
In spite of those improvements, Teague definitely had his struggles this season. He had 24 games where he shot under 33%, and also had some turnovers that left you scratching your head. One that still sticks out in my mind was during a home game against Portland. After a defensive rebound, Al Horford went to pass it to Jeff around the break. Teague, paying too much attention to very slight pressure by Eric Maynor, let the pass fly right through his hands. The game was 84-81 Blazers at the time and the Hawks went on to lose 104-93.
Now, it’s hard to pin that loss on Teague, as he scored 21 points on 11 shots and had seven assists in that game. However, that turnover above was one of three he had in the fourth quarter, which goes to show the mental lapses he had at times.
It would have been one thing if those lapses were limited to in-game issues. For Jeff, though, it was a game-by-game problem. All of those 20/10 games that Jeff had were great, but in those games he was almost surreal; showing an certain aggressiveness and effectiveness that only exists in an All-Star guard. In other games, it looked like he just didn’t have it. He wouldn’t be aggressive, and without his aggression, it was more difficult for the Hawks to win.
This was most prevalent in Atlanta’s 4-2 series loss to the Indiana Pacers. Teague was great in the game one loss, netting 21 points and seven assists. But as the series went on, he seemed to fade, highlighted by a 3-for-16 performance in game five where he missed all nine shots he took outside of the paint. One unfamiliar with the series might want to attribute that to Roy Hibbert’s “verticality”, but that wasn’t the case; the Hawks were often able to move Hibbert out of the paint with Al Horford. Teague just did not take advantage of this, something that was largely resultant in his minus-23 (!!!) on/off efficiency differential for the playoffs.
Another criticism of Teague from this season was his defense. Jeff has the athleticism to be a decent defender, which was reflected in his one-on-one defense, where he usually effective. Any play involving a screen or off-ball movement, though, saw Teague as lost at a five year old wandering a grocery store. He was hesitant to go through screens and team’s with good shooting point guards were able to take advantage. Smith and Horford are as good as you can get as clean up guys on defense, but even they couldn’t rectify all of Teague’s mistakes.
Barring a miraculous Chris Paul acquisition, I expect Teague to be back next season. I would have been hesitant to say this when the season ended, but the hiring of coach Budenholzer swayed my opinion on this. Jeff isn’t Tony Parker in any realm, but he has the athleticism that will fit with what Budenholzer wants out of his point guard. Jeff may have had his faults this season, but he just turned 25; he has plenty of things to learn and more than enough time to improve.
BEST GAME: A 107-88 win against the Toronto Raptors. Sure, the Raptors aren’t your big name opponent, but Jeff did everything right in this game. He scored efficiently (24 points on 15 shots) and only turned the ball over once while accumilating 13 assists. He also had great games against Miami, Brooklyn, and Memphis, but the 13:1 AST/TO ratio was the the clincher for me.
BEST HIGHLIGHT: No, this wasn’t a Kevin Durant nightmare; this actually happened.
AVERAGE GAME GRADE: 6.4/10
SEASON GRADE: 8/10