Josh Smith’s suspension a couple of weeks ago for conduct detrimental to the team wasn’t just a message to Josh Smith; it was a message to the entire team that no one, not even the perceived star, was above the team, and could act out of the team’s principles and go unscathed.
While more people have been focusing on how Josh would respond to the first suspension of his career, something else has happened: Jeff Teague has exploded.
In those seven games, starting with Smoove’s absence in the Brooklyn game, Jeff has averaged over 19 points and eight assists on a true-shooting percentage of .634. He’s topped 20 points in four of those games, and has had double-digit assists in three. (including consecutive 20/10 games against Brooklyn)
Even Larry Drew has recognized Teague’s inconsistent play so far this year, sometimes going as far as to question Jeff’s motor. (in my world, this is viewed as “aggressive Jeff” vs “wait, we have a point guard?”)
Of course, there can be another view to this. Obviously, Jeff’s numbers are going to be up a little bit with Lou Williams out, as he’s playing over 36 minutes a game since Lou’s injury. However, in terms of shooting, that’s not necessarily the case; JT is actually take over a shot less per-36 minutes since Lou injury. The difference now, though, is that he is hitting more of his threes, and is attacking the basket furiously. (which can be seen in his increased free throw attempts over that span)
The Hawks will need Jeff to continue this play as the calendar rolls over to February. Atlanta kicks off that month with three games against Chicago, Indiana, and Memphis, which are the teams that comprise the top three in defense in the league. Even though the Hawks have already beaten these teams this year, they’ve played a relatively tame schedule since they beat the Pacers at the end of December. Strong point guard play will be critical in winning these games, which would give the Hawks a nice boost in national recognition if they could capture at least two.
Of course, they need to beat the Raptors at home first for any of that to matter. Kyle Lowry, who killed the Hawks last year with the Rockets, is still listed as day-to-day with back spasms. Despite their record, the Raptors have looked extremely strong recently, losing some close games against really good teams.
While the Raptors do have a surprisingly efficient offense (credit to Lowry and Calderon), they are near the bottom of the league in defense. Teague should have a field day in this game, which could serve as an indicator of whether or not his consistency is improving. Keep a close eye on this one.