A year ago, when Jeff Teague was traded to the Indiana Pacers from the Atlanta Hawks, there was euphoria in Pacers-land. The Pacers had longed for a point guard who could execute pick and roll, get into the paint, finish through traffic or find scorers, and play with a lot of confidence, make or miss. It was what Teague did in Atlanta. He was the conductor for a team that wasn’t loaded with elite talent and yet won 60 games with Teague running the show. From the Pacers point of view, the logic was sound. Teague was quick to the rim and a quality scorer. He was expert at pick and roll and he could create his own shot. Teague had a history of clutch shot making in big games. He had been to the playoffs every year in his career. One of those years, the Atlanta Hawks had the best season in their history.
Teague was schooled in a style of play where ball movement was the identity, not iso-scoring.
Even though Jeff Teague had a decent (2016-17) year that started off slow, he wasn’t exactly what the Pacers thought they were getting as a difference maker going up against Steph Curry, Damian Lillard, Kyrie Irving and John Wall. The confident Jeff Teague was replaced by something else.
Teague had never played with an athlete as skilled as Paul George, and their chemistry was a work in progress. Add to that, the player Teague replaced, George Hill, had an excellent year with the Utah Jazz.
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Teague took the third most shots of his career in 2016-17 but his efficiency was down from his career high 46% of two years ago. He had more rebounds than he ever had and his assists were exceptional so why did it seem as if he had an average year?
Scoring. His 15.3 points was a four year low and his defense was boring and often non-existent.
Teague (he appeared in every game in 2016-17) had something to prove. Often, it felt as if Teague was trying too hard in his hometown to be everything the Pacers needed, despite the Paul George luxury. It wasn’t what Indy wanted nor what Teague expected; after all he had been an All-Star. But it was a contract year, and no matter how the expectations fell to earth, Teague still had in his back pocket a blur of quickness, a jump shot, a chip on his shoulder, and the ability to change a game.
A member of the Minnesota Timberwolves for three years which is a good deal for the Wolves and Teague, the Indy native has the hometown kid label off his back as he goes out west to the new and improved Wolves with an eye popping starting lineup. Teague. Jimmy Butler. Andrew Wiggins. Karl-Anthony Towns. Two weeks ago, Andrew Wiggins was the Wolves second best player. Now he is their fourth. The young Wolves were a nice growing together product but they needed veterans who knew how to win to elevate their psyche, game and potential. Jeff Teague is that guy.
He can take a team to the playoffs, carry them, because he has done it before. But with this talented group all Teague is being asked to do is to control pace, get players shots, get himself going when necessary, and be the consummate leader.
That is what Teague has over the other Wolves talents. Jimmy Butler, though a scintillating scorer and defender, thinks leadership is calling teammates out in the media. Towns and Wiggins are too young and inexperienced about the game and boring on defense to get players to follow them. Teague is the right combination of tough, in your face, supportive, generous and demanding.
This past season was a learning curve for Jeff Teague. How to play with an elite player and still maintain your identity. It wasn’t a complete success but it wasn’t a failure either. It expanded his knowledge base and it brought him west to a team loaded with potential that should make the playoffs and was desperate for a leader.
They have a leader in Jeff Teague.
photo via llananba