The Indiana Pacers have been extremely busy this offseason, adding veterans like Jeff Teague, Thaddeus Young and Al Jefferson to a core that already includes Paul George, Monta Ellis, Myles Turner and C.J. Miles among others. Team president Larry Bird also replaced long-time head coach Frank Vogel with Nate McMillan and stressed that he wants Indiana to play at a faster pace next season.
Teague will be an integral part of that up-tempo attack, replacing George Hill in the Pacers’ starting lineup after being acquired in a three-team deal with the Atlanta Hawks and Utah Jazz.
Last season, the seven-year veteran averaged 15.7 points, 5.9 assists, 2.7 rebounds and 1.2 steals in 28.5 minutes, while shooting 43.9 percent from the field and 40 percent from three-point range. In the playoffs, he averaged 14.5 points and 6.1 assists in 27.9 minutes.
It was just two years ago that Teague was named an All-Star and helped the 60-win Hawks advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. During that postseason run, he averaged 16.8 points, 6.7 assists, 3.2 rebounds and 1.5 steals in Atlanta’s 16 playoffs games.
However, Teague’s minutes gradually decreased due to the arrival and emergence of Dennis Schroder. While Teague remained Atlanta’s starter this year, Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer played Schroder 20.3 minutes per game in the regular season and 19.1 minutes per game during the playoffs.
Teague helped the 2013 first-round pick develop and handled the situation like a consummate pro, but it became clear that his exit from Atlanta was inevitable since Schroder was viewed as the point guard of the future and the Hawks had other needs to address.
With that said, it’s important to note that Teague is in his prime (having just turned 28 years old in June) and he played very well last year. Not only were his traditional stats impressive, his advanced numbers show just how productive he was for Atlanta on both ends of the court.
Teague was a crucial part of Atlanta’s second-ranked defense. The Hawks allowed just 98.8 points per 100 possessions (trailing only the San Antonio Spurs) and Teague played a major factor in that. Opponents shot just 39.9 percent against Teague during the regular season, which ranked third in the NBA among players who appeared in at least 75 games (behind only Cleveland’s LeBron James and Golden State’s Draymond Green). Also, Teague ranked fifth in the NBA (and first among all guards) in Percentage Points Different, as his opponents’ field goal percentage dropped by an average of 3.8 percent when he guarded them.
Offensively, Teague ranked seventh among all NBA players in points created through assists (15.1 per game). He also ranked eighth in potential assists (passes that would be an assist with a made shot) with 12.2 per game. His 34.4 assist percentage ranked 13th among all players, and he racked up secondary assists (also known as hockey assists), which are passes that lead to an assist within two seconds and one dribble. He also got to the rim with ease, ranking fourth in the NBA in drives per game (11.1) and averaging the fifth-most kick-out passes in the league.
Not to mention, Teague’s ability to knock down threes spread the floor for the Hawks and helped their balanced offensive attack. His 40 percent shooting from three-point range ranked 17th among all NBA players last season. He also thrived in catch-and-shoot situations, hitting an elite 48.3 percent of those attempts and leading the NBA in Effective Field Goal Percentage on catch-and-shoot opportunities (71.7 percent). His shots were timely too, as he ranked fourth among all postseason players in clutch points per game (which are points scored when the game is within five points), trailing only Boston’s Isaiah Thomas, Golden State’s Stephen Curry and Houston’s James Harden.
Teague’s two-way play made him a key contributor for the Hawks. And in a league full of star floor generals, it says something that he finished last season 11th among point guards in Estimated Wins Added (7.8).
Now, Teague will have the chance to play for a very talented Pacers squad and fulfil a life-long dream since he was born and raised in Indianapolis.
Basketball Insiders recently talked with Teague to discuss his homecoming, excitement about joining the Pacers, departure from the Hawks, expectations for the 2016-17 season and much more in this exclusive interview.
Alex Kennedy: There were a number of rumors about where the Hawks might trade you. How nice is it to land with your hometown Pacers?
Jeff Teague: “Man, it’s really good to be home. Like you said, there were a lot of rumors about me going different places. To actually be able to come home and be able to play in front of my friends and family, I’m very excited.”
Kennedy: Did you know the trade was coming or did it catch you off guard? What was that process like?
Teague: “Me and the Hawks talked a bit and we agreed to be open with each other and try to help each other facilitate a nice deal. So I knew it was coming [eventually], but I didn’t know when. When I got the news, Coach Bud let me know that he would be trading me home. It was bittersweet, but I’m excited about a new start and a new opportunity.”
Kennedy: What were you doing when you got the news?
Teague: “I was actually in Indiana. I got the call from Coach Bud and I was about to walk into my brother’s house. When he told me, I got off the phone and told my brother and we kind of looked at each other. Then, we just got hyped; we started laughing and cheering and stuff. It was good news.”
Kennedy: You mentioned that it’s bittersweet. How tough is it to leave Atlanta after seven successful seasons there, and what will you remember most from your time with the Hawks?
Teague: “I’ll remember all of the fun times and all of the great teammates and coaches I had. In Atlanta, I learned so much, especially from Mike Bibby and those guys early on. Those guys had a huge influence on my career, teaching me how to work and how to be a pro. When Coach Bud came in, he gave me an opportunity to play, and it meant a lot that he trusted me and believed in me. I have a lot of great memories from Atlanta – the 60-win season, having the opportunity to play in the Eastern Conference Finals, some of the playoff atmospheres when we played against teams like the Cavs. My time in Atlanta was special and I enjoyed it, but I’m looking forward to doing bigger and better things in Indiana.”
Kennedy: When you say bigger and better things, do you think the 2016-17 season could be a career-year for you?
Teague: “Definitely. I want to take my game to the next level. I think it’s a great opportunity, and I can’t wait to facilitate and make plays for an All-Star like Paul George and proven veterans like Thaddeus Young and Monta Ellis. Those guys can score the ball, which always makes the point guard’s job a lot easier. It’s going to make me a lot more of a threat on the offensive and defensive end.”
Kennedy: What was your reaction when you saw the moves that came after you landing in Indiana? The Pacers added you, but then acquired guys like Thaddeus and Al Jefferson too. What did you think when you saw the front office add weapons like that?
Teague: “I’m thinking, ‘I need to get up and down the court and get the ball to those guys.’ (laughs) We have a guy like Al Jefferson, who has the ability to easily score in the halfcourt. Then, Paul George can obviously score in the halfcourt and also get out and run with me, Thad, Monta and others. That will help us get some easy baskets. It’s only going to help my game a lot.”
Kennedy: When the coaching change was made, Larry Bird emphasized that he wants the team get up and down the floor more. Do you think you guys have the personnel to be one of the better fast-paced teams in the league?
Teague: “Definitely. With Thad coming in at the four, PG being able to play the two, three and four and me and Monta in the backcourt, we have a super-fast team. That’s some speed on top of speed! We’ll have the ability to get out in transition and finish at the rack. It should be exciting.”
Kennedy: What are your expectations for next season? I’ve seen some people say that Indiana is one of the winners of the offseason and fans are hoping the team can go deep into the playoffs again. Entering the season, what are your expectations?
Teague: “Well, definitely being in the playoffs. I haven’t missed them in any year yet, so I expect to be in the playoffs. Once we get around each other and all of the guys start to jell, we’ll know [more]. But on paper, this team has a chance to be really, really good. If we can bring it all together, jell and be one big unit like we need to be, it could be a really special year for Indiana.”
Kennedy: What are you working on this offseason as you train and get ready for next year?
Teague: “I entered the offseason wanting to get stronger, so that I can go through the season feeling like myself for the entire year. I improved as a shooter last year and I want to continue to work at that. I also want to be a leader for this team. That’s a big thing for me, being a leader.”
Kennedy: What is your leadership style and what makes a good leader, in your mind? And what can you do as the leader to help some of the young guys like Myles Turner and Joe Young, for example, as they develop?
Teague: “I’ve always led by example, and I always get attached to the young guys. I feel like I’m a still a kid at heart and I’m a baby-faced-looking guy who only looks, like, 21, so I think we relate a little bit. (laughs) I try to talk to them and tell them what I’ve learned – the things that have helped me and allowed me to get to some of the places that I’ve been. I want to do whatever I can to help them. I’m always asking for their opinions too. I ask them what I can do to help them get better.
“I’m an open book. I like to talk to everybody and I’m easy going. I like to work with everybody. I don’t think I’m too big [time] to hang with the younger guys or too whatever to hang with the older guys. I’m just open with everyone. I’m always trying to learn too, and I’m always ready to work.”
Kennedy: You did a good job helping Dennis Schroder develop in Atlanta and you were professional about splitting minutes. But there were times you weren’t on the court when I’m sure you wanted to be and that’s a tough situation for any player. Is there part of you that feels like you can be unleashed again and not have to look over your shoulder at all?
Teague: “Yeah, but I also thought it was a beautiful thing having two guys who could do so many things. I just thought we could’ve been used differently at times. I thought they could’ve put us on the floor together and it would’ve made for another dynamic. Now, I think I have an opportunity to play how I play and be me. I don’t have to second-guess things or wonder if I’m going to get back in the game in the fourth quarter or whatever. Now, I have the opportunity to make the most of my time on the floor. In Atlanta, after a while, I knew when I was coming out, what time I was coming out and in what situations I would come out.”
Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal
The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.
It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.
Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.
There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.
Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.
Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.
That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.
Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.
At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.
It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.
One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.
NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind
Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.
When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.
“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.
Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.
That didn’t last long.
“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”
With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.
As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.
After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.
In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.
“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”
Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.
“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”
Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.
“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”
After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.
Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.
“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”
All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.
“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”
Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team
Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.
“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”
Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN