In sports, it’s always about the next man up. Eventually the status quo is going to chang, and you are going to need guys that are ready to step up and move the team into the future.
In 2011, that next man up happened to be Hawks point guard Jeff Teague. Around the trade deadline that season, the Hawks traded their starting point guard, sending Mike Bibby to Washington in favor of Kirk Hinrich. Hinrich was recovering from some injuries at the time, so a young Teague got a chance to start for a few games before Hinrich was ready to take over the reins.
Those starts between then and the end of the season showed one thing for Teague: he definitely had some promise, but he had a lot of work to do before solidifying himself as a starting caliber guard in the NBA.
Then came the playoffs that year and everything changed. Once again, Hinrich found himself out of action, straining a hamstring in the deciding Game 6 against the Orlando Magic in the first round. The veteran point guard was listed as doubtful for the entire second round, putting the Hawks in dire straits as they went up against the East’s No. 1 seed: the Chicago Bulls and league MVP Derrick Rose.
Teague was once again called upon to be the team’s starting point guard, and he didn’t wilt under the now extreme pressure. Instead, he thrived playing against Rose and the Bulls, averaging 15 points per game on over 50-percent shooting for the series. With Al Horford, Josh Smith, and Joe Johnson at his side, Teague helped the Hawks force six games out of the Bulls; a shocker compared to the Hawks two previous trips to the second round where they were swept both times.
In the following years, Teague would blossom into a very good starting point guard in the NBA. In the 2014-15 season, he was one of the pivotal parts of the Hawks reaching the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history. Teague’s stats were objectively outstanding: 16 points and seven assists per game with a 56.6-percent true-shooting and a PER over 20. His efforts earned him his first All-Star selection, and it looked like he had the potential to earn more appearances in the coming years.
Fast forward to June 22, 2016. According to multiple reports, the Hawks are parting ways with Teague, sending him to Indiana in a three-way deal that will net the Hawks the No. 12 pick from Utah in the upcoming draft.
That’s it. Just a year after being named an All-Star and showing legitimate talent, Teague is getting dropped in a glorified salary dump. What happened?
Dennis Schröder happened.
Ever since the Hawks selected Schröder with the 17th pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, there has been a proverbial clock ticking on Jeff Teague’s time in Atlanta. At some point, the Hawks were going to be forced to pick between Teague and Schröder, and the selection wasn’t likely to favor the guard over five years the senior in age.
How long it would take to get to that point, though, was a complete mystery. Would Schröder prove to be ready immediately? In one year? Two? Teague signed a very team-friendly four-year deal not long after the draft, meaning that the Hawks could essentially move him whenever they felt like it.
That “felt like it” may have officially come on Wednesday, but the signs were there well before then. For the entirety of the 2015-16 season, something seemed off with Teague. He was always a little inconsistent, but more often than not this past season, the Hawks were getting the dragging, uninspired Teague compared to the fiery drive-to-the-basket competitor that often propelled the entire team. It was later reported that a patella injury was likely slowing Teague down, but nonetheless, the on-court results were not there for the Wake Forest product.
The analytics show those results out in a non-flattering manner. In Teague’s All-Star season, the Hawks were statistically better with Teague on the floor: six points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor compared to when he was on the bench. In January of 2016, though — midway through this past season — those numbers had flipped completely, to the tune of the Hawks being 12 points worse with Teague on the floor.
Of course, who was the beneficiary of that stat? Dennis Schröder, who was sitting at a comfy plus-nine around that time.
The entire argument of who the Hawks were going to pick as their point guard going forward likely ended in the same game that ended their season. With the game and series on the line against the future champion Cleveland Cavaliers, Teague wasn’t on the floor. Instead, Schröder was out there, desperately doing his best to try and get the Hawks at least one win out of the series.
All of that led to the decision that the Hawks made with this trade, and one thing has to be said about that decision: it was the right one.
Even if Teague recovered and improved on his 2015-16 season, his time with the Hawks had likely passed. Schröder took advantage of the “next man up” philosophy, and he proved his worth to the team. Whether he is truly capable of being a good and consistent starter is still to be seen, but he has earned his shot and he was not going to get any better with Teague still ahead of him on the depth chart.
As for the trade itself, I have seen some express disappointment on Twitter; disappointment that the Hawks didn’t get more in return. Teague had a middling season in 2015-16, and in a league where point guards are a dime a dozen, you are going to have to really work to get a ton of value in return. Teague revealing his injury did not help the Hawks at the bargaining table, either.
With this trade, the Hawks get two things. One is obviously the No. 12 pick that they received, which they are now reportedly shopping around with the No. 21 pick they also hold. I don’t know if the Hawks can flip those picks into anything meaningful, but at the very least, they have two shots to grab something in this upcoming draft.
The second thing they got might be more important, and I think some fans might be underestimating it: cap space. With Teague off the books, the Hawks clear a minimum of $6 million in cap space when you account for the potential rookie-deal you will have to give to the No. 12 pick. That clearance, combined with the over $5 million the Hawks will get back once they renounce Kirk Hinrich, with give Atlanta north of $20 million in cap space this summer that the Hawks can use after max or near-max contract offer to Al Horford.
Sure, that cap space is not exactly enough money to offer Kevin Durant, but he’s not likely coming to Atlanta anyways. What it does do, though, is give you the room to comfortably engage with free agents like Nic Batum, Jared Dudley, Courtney Lee, or whoever else you would like. Pretty much, you can keep Horford and actually add a piece that may help you in the upcoming season.
The Hawks have a lot of options going forward, but one thing is certain: Dennis Schröder is the next man up for Atlanta, and there is no looking back now.