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Jeff Teague on Pacers Trade, Hawks Exit, Expectations

Jeff Teague discusses his trade to the Pacers, exit from the Hawks, new teammates, 2016-17 expectations and more.

Alex Kennedy

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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.”

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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NBA

Where Can Dallas Go From Here?

The Dallas Mavericks have had a bad season, what can they do to turn it around?

Zach Dupont

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The Dallas Mavericks struck gold in 2018 when they secured Slovenian superstar Luka Doncic in the NBA Draft.

Fast forward to 2021 and Doncic has already emerged as one of the best players in the NBA and a borderline perennial MVP candidate. This season, Doncic is averaging 28.5 points, 9.0 assists and 8.4 rebounds per game and was just named as a starter in the All-Star Game for the second time in a row. But Doncic’s success isn’t leading the Mavericks to wins as Dallas holds a mediocre 17-16 record and currently sits 9th in the Western Conference.

Outside of Doncic, the Mavericks lack the scoring needed to push them over the top. Kristaps Porzingis is Dallas’ second-leading scorer, averaging 20.5 points per game, but he has had trouble staying healthy, playing in only 17 games. Porzingis hasn’t been shooting the ball consistently either, shooting only 35 percent from three-point range so far.

Dallas, as a team, needs help with their outside shooting. The Mavericks are 23rd in the NBA in three-point shooting percentage, hitting 35.3 percent of their outside shots on the season. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that Dallas shoots the ninth most three-pointer per game at 37.1 three-point attempts – wilder, ranking ninth in three-pointers attempted rate, 42.7 percent of Dallas’ shots come from beyond the arc.

The defense has also been a thorn in the Mavericks’ side this year. At one point, Porzingis was one of the more dynamic shot blockers and interior defenders in the league, but this season he has taken a step back. Dallas rocks the fifth-worst defensive rating in the NBA of 114.4, only beating out the Washington Wizards, New Orleans Pelicans, Portland Trailblazers and Sacramento Kings. Having the fifth-worst defense isn’t good enough if the Mavericks are serious about competing this year.

One player that might help Dallas in both areas is a former player, current Sacramento Kings’ wing Harrison Barnes. Barnes has had a very productive season in Sacramento, averaging 16.1 points per game on 48.9 field goal percentage and 40 percent from three. At 6-foot-8 and 225 lbs, Barnes has the size to defend elite wing players, often doing a modest job for a very bad defensive. Barnes also is capable of operating as a secondary ball-handler with some limited playmaking abilities that could help diversify the Mavericks’ offense.   

Another player rumored to be on the market is Charlotte Hornets guard Terry Rozier. The Hornets have a log jam at the guard position between Rozier, LaMelo Ball and Devonte’ Graham, and Rozier could be a nice fit alongside Doncic in the backcourt. Rozier would immediately improve the Mavericks’ three-point shooting as Scary Terry is knocking down 44.5 percent of his deep hoists. Another benefit of bringing in Rozier is his ability to act as a primary ball-handler, alongside Doncic that would take the pressure off to create a basket every time down the floor. Rozier’s defense does leave a lot to be desired, but he works hard on that end and averages 1.3 steals per game.

Further, two big men known to be on the trade block are Atlanta Hawks forward John Collins and Cleveland Cavaliers center Andre Drummond. In his fourth season, Collins has taken another step forward on both ends of the court, averaging 17.4 points on an ultra-efficient 62.2 true shooting percentage. Collins has also improved as a defender since he first entered the league and is now making a much more positive impact on defense.

This improvement is evident by his defensive rating of 111.7, more than two whole points lower than the Hawks’ team defensive rating of 113.8, per NBA.com. Collins does have some drawbacks though, chief among them is that he’ll hit restricted free agency this offseason in time for a massive payday.

Drummond has sat out since the Cavaliers started looking for a partner, and Dallas presents an exciting option for the 27-year-old center. Drummond is a monster on the glass, averaging 13.5 rebounds per game this season – a number that is actually the lowest he’s put up since 2014-15. For Drummond to fit on this team and help them win games, he’d have to cut back his scoring attempts dramatically.

Drummond’s 17.5 points per game look nice, but when paired with a 50 percent true shooting, it’s much less appealing. However, the potential rim protection and rebounding may be worth the risk of his lackluster offensive numbers – best of all, the asking price should be low too.

A roadblock to acquiring anyone for Dallas is their lack of assets to give back in a trade. The Mavericks don’t own their 2021 or 2023 first-round draft picks, which leaves them only able to trade a first-round pick at the earliest for 2025. Dallas isn’t loaded with prospects to ship away either. Any of the 2020 draft picks would provide some value, but not enough to get a deal done for a significant difference-maker.

Dallas has their generational talent, but they need to build a roster around him if they expect to succeed and lock down a potential-laden future together.

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Anthony Edwards Showing Promising Progression

Anthony Edwards has been a highlight reel every single night but his poor shooting has gotten a lot of attention as well. Chad Smith details why there should be no cause for concern regarding the future of the top overall draft pick.

Chad Smith

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There is a lot of pressure that comes with being selected number one overall in the NBA Draft. This is especially true in today’s game, where the top pick is expected to have an immediate impact. Often times when a player is the top pick, they are instantly the most talented player on their team, or at least have the most potential.

This was not the case for Anthony Edwards and the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Karl-Anthony Towns is still the face of the franchise. And, as many highlight plays and rim-destroying dunks that Edwards provides, he is still a raw talent with a lot to learn. To his credit, Edwards not only is well aware of and acknowledges that fact, but has the work ethic and maturity needed to fulfill his potential.

The former Georgia Bulldog is still just 19-years-old, but he has the physical tools to do what a lot of players in the league cannot. He does an excellent job of leveraging his size, speed and quickness to get wherever he wants to on the floor. His rebounding and defense have already improved just 35 games into the season. The glaring weakness in his game is shooting efficiency, which every scouting report on him around the league has written in all caps with red ink.

Edwards is shooting 37 percent overall from the floor, 31 percent from beyond the arc and 80 percent from the free-throw line. The latter indicates that he has the touch but the accuracy just isn’t there from long range. On average, Edwards takes 14 shot attempts per game and six of them are of the three-point variety. Nearly half of his shot attempts come from the three-point line because he is typically wide open, which plays right into the hands of the defense.

Once Edwards gets a grasp of how the game is played and what the defense is trying to do to him, a light will go off in his head. The old saying goes “take what the defense gives you” but it is also important to recognize your own strengths and weaknesses. Based on his work ethic and desire to improve his game, it is only a matter of time before he figures it out.

The numbers show that Edwards is already evolving in other areas of the game. After blocking just two total shots in the month of January, the rookie recorded 12 blocks in February. His 3.2 rebounds per game in January rose to 5.1 last month and his assist average went from 1.9 to 3.3 per game.

Minnesota owns the worst record in the league, but help is on the way. The Timberwolves fired head coach Ryan Saunders after their 7-24 start to the season. Minutes after the news broke, the team already had their new man: Chris Finch, one of the NBA’s top assistant coaches for quite some time. More importantly, Finch has a long history with Gersson Rosas and a solid track record of molding talented young players.

Finch worked with a young Nikola Jokic when he was with the Denver Nuggets and helped develop Anthony Davis when he worked for the New Orleans Pelicans. He joined the Toronto Raptors coaching staff this season and molded Chris Boucher into one of the top candidates for the Most Improved Player Award; it wouldn’t be the first time he pushed a player into the award, either, as he helped Brandon Ingram win the award during the 2019-20 season.

One other notable thing that Finch did while in New Orleans is fix Lonzo Ball’s jump shot. He started with the mechanics. Instead of Ball bringing the ball up from the side of his hip, Finch was able to get him to bring it up in the middle of his body. He also worked with the young guard on his shot selection, both of which have paid large dividends this season.

There will be plenty of tools for Finch to incorporate into his plans to resurrect one of the league’s worst offenses. Along with Towns and Edwards, the Timberwolves have been getting fantastic production from Malik Beasley, who just received a 12-game suspension. Ricky Rubio has been filling in nicely as former All-Star D’Angelo Russell is out with a knee injury. Jarred Vanderbilt, Jarrett Culver, Josh Okogie and rookie Jaden McDaniels are all part of the young nucleus that Finch inherits as well.

Before the coaching change, the Timberwolves scored just 1.15 points per possession on cuts and 0.86 points per possession off of screen plays, per Cleaning The Glass. Both of these ranked bottom five in the league. Finch loves to incorporate off-ball screens and cuts to the basket so this should give them a nice boost, especially with excellent cutters like Edwards and Okogie.

Despite the typical rookie efficiency issues, Edwards has been contributing in other ways. Using his elite athleticism to get to the rim provides Minnesota a multitude of positive outcomes. Edwards can either finish at the rim, create space for others to get open shots, or get fouled and collect points at the free-throw line, being the excellent free-throw shooter that he is.

It is easy to see that Edwards has the desire to win; he cares about winning and the team’s success overall. After their game against the Raptors, all anyone wanted to talk about was his incredible dunk over Yuta Watanabe. Edwards didn’t miss a beat though. “I don’t care about the dunk,” he said. “I couldn’t make shots.” Edwards did not dwell on the moment either, leaving the podium and heading back out onto the court to get more shots up.

There is a long history of guys in this league that have struggled with efficiency, then became decent or above-average shooters. It’s all about hard work, dedication, and repetition. Edwards has all of the ingredients needed to improve that part of his game. That is just one piece of the puzzle in Minnesota but one that could finally steer this franchise in the right direction.

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NBA Most Valuable Player Watch – March 1

With the All-Star break on the horizon, Tristan Tucker updates the MVP ladder, with two former MVP winners picking up steam in recent weeks.

Tristan Tucker

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In a typical year, it’s rare to see more than two players in serious contention for the MVP award midway through the season. But, as everyone knows all too well, this is no normal NBA season, with three players alternating between the top three spots on what seems like a daily basis.

With the All-Star break nearly here, it’s time to take a look at how the MVP race is shaping up at the halfway point of the season.

1. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers (Previous: 1)

Embiid is at the top of his game right now, averaging 31.5 points, 13.2 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game in the time since Basketball Insiders’ last ladder update. In that span, Embiid is shooting 47.2 percent from downtown, with a 50-point performance against the Chicago Bulls and a 42-point performance against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Even more impressive, the 76ers are outscoring opponents by 18.8 points when Embiid is on the floor, which ranks in the 100th percentile of the NBA. That kind of production is literally unmatched, which should give Embiid a clear edge in the MVP race.

Philadelphia is a far more up-and-down team now than they were to begin the year, but Embiid’s continued growth has the 76ers with legitimate title hopes just five years removed from a 10-72 season.

2. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets (Previous: 3)

In the last two weeks, Jokic embarked on an amazing stretch, averaging 27.3 points, 8.9 rebounds, 7.9 assists and 2.1 steals per game while shooting 56.7 percent from the floor and 55.2 percent from deep. While the Nuggets are still searching for answers to their season, Jokic is doing everything in his power to keep them in the playoff picture.

If Jokic’s play this year was combined with Denver’s 2019-20 record, there’s little doubt that he would be leading the MVP race. However, a lack of consistency (with some embarrassing losses to the Washington Wizards and the injury-riddled Atlanta Hawks) has kept Jokic from outright claiming the top spot.

3. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers (Previous: 2)

James’ case for MVP has stagnated over the last two weeks, with the Lakers losing four-straight in that span. It’s hurt his case, but that isn’t to say that his on-court production hasn’t been ridiculously impressive, averaging 25.4 points, 8.6 rebounds and 7.3 assists per game in the last two weeks.

The Lakers are 14.5 points better when James is on the court and it’s evident to see that “The King” is keeping the Lakers afloat in spite of an injury to co-star Anthony Davis. That being said, James is going to need to cut back on games like those played during the team’s four-game losing streak; he committed eight turnovers against Washington and was a minus-20 against the Utah Jazz.

4. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors (Previous: 6)

Curry had an incredible February, especially closer to the beginning of the month. On the month, Curry averaged 32.1 points per game while shooting 41.9 percent on 12.8 attempts from three per game. That kind of production is reminiscent of his play in 2016, when he was unanimously awarded MVP.

Curry’s February numbers would have looked even more impressive if it weren’t for mediocre showings against the Miami HEAT, Indiana Pacers and Lakers. But the fact that Curry missed 30 threes combined in those games and still finished shooting better than nearly everyone else in the league is a testament to just how rare of a talent Curry is.

5. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers (Previous: Not Ranked)

With injuries to CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic, it seemed as if the already struggling Portland Trail Blazers were doomed to fade out of the playoff picture. Despite four straight losses, Lillard is carrying Portland with all of his might to a potential postseason berth, with the Blazers sitting at 18-14.

Over the span of two weeks, Lillard’s been on another planet, averaging 32.2 points and 10.8 assists per game while averaging 13 threes and making 37.2 percent of them. Take a second to think of the names that are starting next to Lillard: Gary Trent Jr., Enes Kanter, Robert Covington and Derrick Jones Jr. Trent and Kanter are playing well, but it’s hard to believe that that lineup is currently the sixth seed in the Western Conference.

6. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks (Previous: NR)

The competition at the bottom of the ladder is getting tighter with each passing week, with Kawhi Leonard and Luka Doncic each making promising cases while the HEAT’s Jimmy Butler has been a triple-double machine. But the selection here, at least this week, is Giannis Antetokounmpo, fresh off a game against the Los Angeles Clippers in which he put up 36 points, 14 rebounds and 5 assists.

In the last six games, the Bucks have put together a five-game win streak, with Antetokounmpo averaging 33.6 points, 13 rebounds, 6.4 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.7 blocks per game. “The Greek Freak’s” per game numbers have soared as Milwaukee’s overall success has grown, with his numbers inching closer to that of his MVP seasons. His success was even recognized around the league, with Antetokounmpo most recently named Eastern Conference Player of the Week.

While Antetokounmpo has a lot of work to do to make up lost ground in the MVP race, the Bucks’ recent play should have him among the top vote-getters despite some likely voter fatigue.

The period after the All-Star break is when teams buckle down and commit to playoff runs, separating the pretenders from the contenders. The feeling here is that the same will happen with the MVP race and that one true leader of the pack will soon emerge. Be sure to stay tuned to Basketball Insiders for the next MVP ladder!

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