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.”
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