Jeff Teague is leading the Hawks’ offense to new heights
The Hawks are third in the East and Jeff Teague is the reason why.
At the beginning of the season, most experts had the top four teams in the East pegged as the Bulls, Cavaliers, Raptors and Wizards, in no particular order. What few anticipated was that 18 games in, the Atlanta Hawks were going to rank third in the conference. The Hawks, who finished eighth last season, didn’t make any splashy free agent additions and are struggling reintegrate Al Horford after he missed most of last season with a pectoral injury. Yet Atlanta somehow has managed to get more wins so far than both the Bulls and Cavaliers.
The Hawks currently have the fourth best offense in the league, thanks to a system based on ball-movement and three-point shooting very similar to the Spurs‘, adapted by former assistant coach and Gregg Popovich confidant Mike Budenholzer. In the center of it all there’s Jeff Teague, the 27-year-old point guard who is averaging career highs in points, field goal percentage and three-point field goal percentage.
Atlanta’s starting lineup features four players whose range extends to the three-point line – Teague, Kyle Korver, DeMarre Carroll and Paul Millsap — and a deadly mid-range shooter in Horford. Teague is relied upon to make pinpoint passes when the off-ball movement that characterizes the offense creates an open look. He’s fantastic at it. Look how perfectly timed this pass to Korver is:
When the offense isn’t freeing up shooters, Teague is in charge of creating catch-and-shoot opportunities using his driving ability (third in the league in total drives) to great effect. He ranks eighth in the league in points created by assists per game and assist opportunities per game. As a result, the Hawks take the second most catch-and-shoot shots per game and the third most catch-and-shoot threes.
Of course ,no offense always gets the looks it wants. The Hawks are allergic to pull ups, as they tend to be lower efficiency shots. But someone has to take those if the defense is conceding them and Teague is that man for Atlanta. He’s averaging 45.8 percent on pull up shots and a remarkable 44 percent on pull up threes on a decent amount of attempts. He is by far the player on his team who creates for himself the most and the one who also creates the most for others. Teague truly is the engine of the Hawks’ machine-like offense.
Not everything is perfect in Atlanta. Defensively the team has not made a leap since last season. They got Horford back but they are still mediocre on that end. It severely limits their potential as a sleeper contender. The biggest problem is interior defense. The Hawks allow the highest field goal percentage at the rim in the entire league. Teague is not the only problem — the bigs just can’t protect the rim — but he’s not part of the solution either. He’s too small to keep his opponents from getting close to the rim or to force misses. On shots Teague contests within ten feet of the rim, opponents shoot a gargantuan 68.6 percent.
The schedule hasn’t been particularly demanding for Atlanta so far. They have feasted on slumping teams en route to a five-game winning streak and have five winnable games against the Nuggets, Pacers, 76ers and Magic (twice) in the horizon before they face real challenges like the Bulls and the Cavaliers. Those games will offer a glimpse into exactly how good Atlanta can be and Teague will have to continue his great play for them to continue at this pace.
Unless Al Horford goes back to the All-Star level he boasted before his injury, it’s very unlikely the Hawks can make serious noise in the East. No one was expecting them to anyway. But Atlanta is extremely fun to watch and a big part of that entertainment factor comes from the play of Jeff Teague. So do yourself a favor and catch a Hawks game soon.