By far, Al Horford is the best and most consistent player in Atlanta.
Kyle Korver draws an extreme amount of attention, is extremely vocal, and opens up the floor so much for everyone else.
Josh Smith is one of the best defenders in the league.
But is the most important player on the Hawks… Devin Harris?
On the surface, Devin’s stats aren’t exactly eye-popping. As a combo-guard/backup point guard, he’s averaging 10 points and three assists a game on a 57.2 true-shooting percentage. (which is really good) As a defender, he’s not what he used to be, but he is still able to defend both guard positions rather effectively.
However, once you start digging deeper, you notice something; Devin Harris has the best on/off differential of any player on the Hawks at plus-9.5.
What does that mean? It means that having Devin Harris on the bench has the most negative impact of any player on the Hawks, in terms of offensive and defensive efficiency. (stats via Basketball-Reference)
To be honest, this really shouldn’t be shocking news to anyone who has watched the Hawks. He maintains a certain aggression on offense that rewards him with free throws, he’s an average three-point shooter, and he is great passer with a high basketball IQ.
But where do we see Devin’s impact the most? Jeff Teague.
Wednesday’s game against the Knicks was a prime example of this. With Devin Harris sitting out of the game, Atlanta was left with Jeff Teague and Shelvin Mack as their only point guards. While you can easily say that Shelvin Mack saved the team from a blowout with his play in the first half, it was obvious that Teague looked out of sorts. He was sloppy with the ball and had six turnovers against a team that is in the bottom half on the league defensively. On top of that, we got the “passive Teague” that I’ve spent whole season describing in my many musings on the Jekyll & Hyde character that Jeff has become this season.
This was on display the most when Jeff Teague drew Knicks center Kenyon Martin in a switch. Martin is still a competent defender, but he shouldn’t be able to match Teague’s quickness on the perimeter.
Obviously, since you are reading this in a post where I just called Jeff “passive” and compared him to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, you can appropriately assume that he didn’t drive on Kenyon Martin and instead picked up his dribble without even trying to test the opposing center.
When Devin is playing, though? We see an entirely different Teague. Even if Jeff does get off to a slow start, the always-aggressive Harris seems to rub off on the rest of the players. However, the effect is most drastic on Jeff Teague.
“Jeff knows I’m going to ride him. I depend on him.” said Larry Drew when pondering the importance of Jeff’s play. This wasn’t a once-in-a-lifetime quote, either; Coach Drew has said this multiple times throughout the season about Jeff, and appears to place an extreme value on his starting point guard.
The other side of that quote, though? It’s almost always LD talking about Jeff’s energy and, shockingly enough, how much Devin Harris plays a role in correcting that wavering, inconsistent energy.
The stats back this up, too. Via nbawowy.com, I was able to look at how different Hawks players perform when Devin Harris is on and off the court. The results? The trio of Teague, Smith, and Horford all shoot a statistically significant percentage higher when Devin Harris is on the court. Not only that, but turnovers are cut and the team’s defense improves by an average of five points per 100 possessions.
Not bad for a guy that some people want to pigeon-hole as a backup point guard.
With Harris likely out again tonight against Philadelphia, all eyes should be focused on Jeff Teague. There won’t be an adrenaline ejection at the two-guard waiting to pick him up; if he starts out slow, be prepared for a long night, and hope that Devin can get back on the court as soon as possible.