We decided to take a break from game recaps because of time AND the fact that they were fun to watch, terrible to blog about, so rather than just blog for blog sake - we waited for something to move us and since it really is the only thing that true Hawks fans are interested in (aside from this relative lofty success the Hawks are experiencing right now)....it's how much should Jeff Teague play and to what end?
And of course, any blog about Jeff Teague should intertwined with a conversation about Mike Woodson and his ability to coach young guards. So, let's talk about the pros and cons of his role:
1. Backup Point Guard - Normally, you wouldn't have high expectations for a rookie point guard to contribute on a contending team esp. one chosen as low (and after as many quality point guards have been chosen) as Teague, but should that change if you only have 1 point guard on the roster. (Note: while we agree that Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford can play point - it's not their natural position nor are they most effective at the position, so why play them there?). So, since we do only have 1 point guard who happens to be lacking in penetration skills and perimeter defense and youth, it stands to reason that utilizing the backup point guard to provide rest, penetration, change of pace, and yes - a better defensive effort would be useful for this team during the season and, should we need it, during the postseason. As the backup to an aging point guard that you will need in the postseason, we would believe that 18-22 minutes would be necessary every single night. Due to the youth of our backup point guard and the fact that he's a rookie, we expected this number to be lower - somewhere in the 13-17 range, but yet still an average of two stints a night. To date, we have already failed to give our backup point guard enough minutes if the goal is to play our starting guards less this season.
2. Future Point Guard - In what was an extraordinarily deep point guard pool in the 2009 NBA draft, the 7th point guard turned out to be a great fit for the Hawks future point guard needs in every place except as a 3pt shooter. With this in mind, the question is how best to develop a young point guard while on a contending team. What minutes are 'winning game' minutes vs. 'development for the postseason' minutes vs. 'development as the 2010-2011 starter' minutes. It's no secret that HS8T has never thought Woodson was very good at finding minutes for young players. We've also been very forthright in saying that under cloak of no new contract - we can see why you may lack trust in a young player to help you win games now, but nothing is a substitute in this league for playing time. If you want to find out whether or not Jeff Teague can be the unlikely player who develops into a starting point guard role from the #19 position in the draft, you're going to have to play him quality minutes (even minutes with starters in order to command the respect that a point guard must command). To date, it could be argued that we are trending in a direction that would fail to play Teague enough to determine whether he's a starter for the future Atlanta Hawks.
3. Rest & Injury Protection - Now, this is where we hoped last year's injury riddled/worn out playoff run would serve as a guide for Teague's development. We hoped that would be the little voice that said trust your rookie until he gives you overwhelming evidence of a lack of readiness in good and bad times. From this quote we wonder whether this was the cause of some of his early season foibles "Before, Teague said, "I just wanted to make sure I didn't turn it over and do anything wrong. Now I think I'm more comfortable. I try to play my game and I think that's what they want me to do." Rookie mistakes happen - that's why they are called rookie mistakes. They have to happen in order to get past them. We'd much rather them happen in the regular season than the postseason, which means the comfort with which we play Teague has to happen now. That wouldn't be a requirement if we had ANOTHER point guard to play while he learns the game, but one way or the other - we must do a better job of managing Joe Johnson's minutes - he should be playing about 35 minutes (i.e. Joe should get about a quarter's worth of rest each game) with the talent that we have at this stage esp. with the scoring punch that Jamal Crawford brings, but that can't happen if you only have a 3 man guard rotation.
We hope that Woodson is taking the hint from his own quote on Teague. Said Woodson, "He's been playing pretty good for us. A lot of that is he's getting a few minutes and he's got some confidence going. That's what it's all about." Correct - playing without fear of making mistakes and knowing that he's getting PT builds confidence. It's no coincidence to us that the talent we saw in the preseason grows when you play and wanes when you don't. Teague will not be perfect this season, but he will provide a spark for this Hawks team if you give him the chance. He already has. The question is how much of a chance he should be given and how consistently should that happen. We believe that around 15-18 minutes would do the trick.
An argument has been made regarding shooting and defensive lapses by Teague, but we'd argue that in a season where he's had one of the fewest usage rates amongst all rookies that the sample size is too small to know if that's a 'rookie mistake' that can be learned and cleaned up by more play OR a problem that should pin him to the sidelines. We saved Teague's #s to the end b/c even if Teague didn't have the numbers he does - we'd be advocating for at least 10 minutes a game to develop Teague, but it's the numbers that say - we should be playing him MORE.
Teague's Player Efficiency Rating (PER) is 15.63 - good for 7th amongst all rookies (4th among rookie PGs), better than Mike Bibby's PER of 14.27. His assist ratio is 2nd amongst all rookies behind Eric Maynor and better than Mike Bibby's 29.4. His turnover ratio is 8.8 (almost 4 to 1 asist to tunover ratio) vs. Bibby's 8.2, both are top 10 averages and for rookies - his is the best of all rookie point guards. The only rookies in the first round who have played less are Earl Clark (who hit a major slump and was benched) and Gerald Henderson (who plays for Larry Brown - nuff said). Teague also is leading all rookie point guards in Defensive Rebound Rate, 3rd in overall rebound rate. The only number that is a negative one for Teague is his shooting percentage at 40%, but there haven't been enough shot attempts to render this a very meaningful number yet. So, yes - Teague has messed up some defensive rotations and hasn't hit all of his shots, but what rookie hasn't done that. It's part of the process, a process we hope allows for more Teague play and the appreciation of the fact that his development only makes the Hawks better THIS year and in future years. At the point at which that changes, we ought to sign a backup point guard immediately.
Let's hope the past 3 performances by Teague have provided Woodson enough goodwill to trust him with minutes every night for this team in an attempt to provide the depth necessary to provide options for the postseason when Bibby's shooting, energy, injury, foul trouble, or defensive liabilities require the services of the emerging young Teague. Those performances are going to begin to render less than 10 minutes and the dreaded DNPs unacceptable in Hawks land.
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