A lot of alarm has been caused by the Hawks’ slow start to the season. After 60 wins and an Eastern Conference Finals berth in the 2014-15 season, the Atlanta team is out to a mediocre 14-12 start to the 2015-16 campaign.
What is the difference? Could it be the departure of DeMarre Carroll, who was often seen as the “glue guy” for last year’s Hawks team? Could it simply be a regression from last year’s team that appeared to see every player peak in the same season? Is it rebounding? Coaching? What happened?
Jeff Teague happened. Or I guess he has failed to happen so far this year.
On the surface, it looks like Teague has had a normal year compared to his past starting seasons with Atlanta. He’s averaging over 15 points per game, he has six assists per game, and he’s averaging just under three turnovers per game. Over the past five seasons — which is when he became Atlanta’s starter — these are almost his exact numbers. While you would generally hope for improvement from a 27 year old, All-Star caliber player, there is really nothing completely wrong with those numbers. So what’s wrong?
Well, the current problem is that Teague cannot make a shot. After posting a career-high 56.6-percent true-shooting last season, Teague is in the dumps this year at 52.5-percent, which is well below the league average and represents a five-year low for Teague. The biggest culprits are his finishing and mid-range game, as his percentages have taken huge drops compared to last year. See here:
On the left is Teague’s shot chart this season. On the right, last season’s. See the difference? Besides 3-pointers, Teague is drastically down in every area, and if you have watched this season, who probably could have guessed that. Teague has been bad around the basket this year, and his floaters and mid-range game haven’t had the success that we are used to seeing.
The Hawks started a little slow at the beginning of last year, but they wound up at 42-9 at one point. One of the big reasons behind that was that Teague was playing the best basketball of his career, as the point guard was averaging nearly 17 points per game on almost 60-percent true-shooting.
It hasn’t helped Teague that backup Dennis Schröder has been bad, too, but get this: the Hawks have been better with Schröder on the floor than with Teague. According to Basketball-Reference, the Hawks are 2.4-points better with Schröder on the floor compared to when he is off it. For Teague? The team is 8.0-points WORSE with Teague on the floor compared to when his is off. The biggest reason? Defense, where the Hawks are nearly seven points better with Teague off of the floor. ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus backs this up, too, as Teague ranks 73 out of 82 qualified point guards in defensive Real Plus-Minus.
Rebounding may be a big issue for the Hawks right now, but head coach Mike Budenholzer has said multiple times throughout his tenure in Atlanta that Jeff Teague is the motor of this team, that the team feeds off of Teague’s energy. That makes Teague, in the middle of what could be the worst season of his career, the biggest problem for the Hawks’ awful start. Until Teague starts to play up to his regular level, the Hawks will continue to struggle on offense and defense.