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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 Daily: Rookie Contributors Lifting Playoff Teams

This year’s impressive rookie class has translated their regular season performances to the playoff stage.

Dennis Chambers

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This past NBA season had the luxury of an incredibly entertaining and high-powered rookie class. Every other day it seemed like the feats of either Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum, Lauri Markkanen, Dennis Smith Jr., Kyle Kuzma, or Ben Simmons were dominating the discussion about how advanced the league’s crop of newbies appeared to be.

As a result, the 2017-18 Rookie of the Year race was a much more heated discussion than the year before.

With the impressive campaign these NBA freshmen put together, it should come as no surprise that on the on bright stage of playoff basketball, three of the aforementioned crop are helping lead their team’s in tight first-round battles.

Donovan Mitchell has been the leading scorer for the Utah Jazz through two games in their series against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Jayson Tatum is stepping up for the Boston Celtics to help fill in the void of Kyrie Irving as they take on the Milwaukee Bucks. Ben Simmons is nearly averaging a triple-double through three games for the Philadelphia 76ers in their matchup with the Miami HEAT.

Lottery pick talents are expected in today’s NBA to come in and have some level of impact for their clubs. Usually, they play the role as a foundational building block that shows flashes of promise with an expected up-and-down first season. While these three playoff contributors haven’t been perfect all year long, under the pressure of the postseason, they’ve stepped up their play and appear to be avoiding the learning curve.

With that, let’s highlight further what Mitchell, Tatum, and Simmons have been able to do thus far in the postseason.

Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz

All season long Mitchell threw the entire scoring load of Salt Lake City on his back for the Jazz and helped carry them to a 5-seed in the Western Conference when early season projections suggested they should head towards in the wake of Rudy Gobert’s injury.

However, the 13th pick out of Louisville had no intentions of missing out on the postseason. And from the looks of his production so far, who can blame him?

Through the first two games of the Jazz-Thunder series, Mitchell yet again placed his name in the same breath as Michael Jordan. Mitchell’s 55 points in his first two playoff games broke Jordan’s record of 53 for most points scored by a rookie guard in that scenario.

Mitchell’s 27 points in Game 1 and 28 points in Game 2 led the Jazz to even the series and steal home court advantage from the Thunder. While he hasn’t been responsible for setting up the team’s offense, tallying just five assists through those two games, Mitchell is fulfilling the role of Gordon Hayward as the team’s primary scorer.

In a series against a team that features the likes of Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony, Utah needs Mitchell to go out there and get as many buckets as he possibly can.

So far, he appears to be welcoming the challenge.

Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics

When it was announced that Kyrie Irving would be lost for the entire postseason due to injury, the Boston Celtics’ hold on the 2-seed seemed a lot less intimidating than it once was in the Eastern Conference.

However, three games into the first round series against the Bucks, the Celtics hold a 2-1 lead. A lot part of that has to do with the role Tatum has been able to step in and play right away with the Celtics down their main scorer and playmaker.

Throughout the first three games of the series, Tatum 12.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 2.3 steals. The third overall pick in the 2017 draft started the series off with 19 points, 10 rebounds, and three steals to help Boston start off the matchup with a 1-0 lead.

At just 20 years old, Tatum is matching his age number with his usage percentage thus far against Milwaukee. For some perspective, Jaylen Brown managed just 12 minutes a night for the Celtics last season as a rookie when the playoffs rolled around.

Granted, injuries and missing players are helping in Tatum being on the court as much as he has, but the rookie is earning his time out there on the court.

Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers

The perceived frontrunner for Rookie of the Year, Ben Simmons has taken control in his first ever playoff series.

For starters, Simmons is averaging nearly a triple double over his first three games against the HEAT; 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 9.7 assists.

On top of his triple double ways, Simmons has upped arguably his biggest weakness so far in the playoffs, shooting 75 percent from the charity stripe. During the regular season, Simmons struggled from the line, hitting only 56 percent of his attempts.

With the offensive prowess of Simmons obvious, it’s the job he’s doing on the defensive end of the court against an aggressive and tough Miami squad that’s elevating his play to the next level.

Simmons’ ability to switch all over the defensive end of the court has placed his responsibilities from Goran Dragic to Justise Winslow to James Johnson, and seemingly everywhere in between.

Now with Joel Embiid back in the fold for the Sixers and Simmons, the rookie point guard has his defensive partner on the floor to help ease the workload on that end. A two-way performance each night will be imperative for Simmons in helping lead the young Sixers past the experienced HEAT team.

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Pelicans Role Players are Key to Success

The supporting cast in New Orleans is a big part of their playoff surge, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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The New Orleans Pelicans have taken a commanding 3-0 lead in their first-round playoff series again the Portland Trail Blazers. While surprising to some, the Pelicans only finished one game behind the Blazers in the standings. The Pelicans have the best player in the series in Anthony Davis and the defensive duo of Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday have stifled Portland’s backcourt.

The truth is, the Pelicans have been a good team all season long. A lot of attention and recognition has been given to Davis, Rondo and Holiday this season and playoffs, and rightfully so. But New Orleans wouldn’t be where they are without the important contributions of some of their role players.

Take E’Twaun Moore, for example. Moore bounced around the NBA early in his career, with stops in Boston, Orlando and Chicago before finding long-term stability contract wise with the Pelicans. He’s primarily been a bench player with them before this season, his second in New Orleans, his first as a full-time starter.

He’s given the Pelicans a huge boost, especially from the three-point line. He’s put up 12.5 points per game on 50.8 percent shooting from the field, both career-highs. He’s shooting 42.5 percent from three-point range.

“I think it’s just our style of play,” Moore told Basketball Insiders. “We play fast and open. Coach [Gentry] gives us a lot of freedom, a lot of confidence. That’s why my game is up, my shooting is up.”

It’s not just offensively though. Moore has always been one of the more underrated defensive guards in the league. Paired up alongside Rondo and Holiday, the trio form a solid wing defensive unit. They’re a big reason for Portland’s offensive struggles.

Moore is the type of role player that every playoff contender needs to succeed. He knows that his role may change from game to game. Some nights he may be asked to score a little more. Other nights his defense is going to be called upon. Whatever it may be, he’s always ready to do what’s asked of him.

“I bring the energy. I bring a spark,” Moore told Basketball Insiders. “It’s knocking down shots, playing defense, getting out in transition. Just trying to be a spark.”

The Pelicans bench has also been a huge factor all season long. Their depth took a major hit early in the season with the injury to Solomon Hill. Hill has since returned to the lineup, but his absence paved the way for other players such as Darius Miller to step up.

This is Miller’s second stint with the Pelicans after spending two years overseas. Drafted 46th overall in 2012, he didn’t play much his first three years in the NBA. In 2014, he was cut by the Pelicans only about a month into the season. This year was different, he was thrown into the rotation from the get-go.

“This is a huge opportunity,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “I just come in and try to work every day, try to get better every day. My teammates have done a great job of putting me in situations where I can be successful.”

Miller has given the Pelicans a capable stretch four in the second unit who can slide over to small forward if need be. He’s averaging a career-best 7.8 points per game, the most out of any of New Orleans’ reserves. He’s their best three-point shooter off the bench, connecting on 41.1 percent of his long-range attempts.

While he acknowledges that he’s enjoying his best season yet as an NBA player, he’s quick to praise his teammates for allowing him to flourish.

“I just try to bring a spark off the bench. I come in and try to knock some shots down,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “My teammates do a great job of finding me when I’m open, I just try and knock down shots and compete.”

Sometimes time away from the NBA helps players grow and mature. The NBA game is fast paced and it can take awhile to get used to it. While some players have begun to use the G-League as a means of preparing for the league, Miller took an alternate route of heading to Germany.

For him, it’s a big reason why he’s been able to make an easier transition back to the NBA. His contract for next season is non-guaranteed, but he’s probably done enough to warrant the Pelicans keeping him around. He’s a much different and much-improved player. If not, he’s sure to draw interest from other teams.

“It was a lot to learn for me personally,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “I had to learn a lot of different things like how to take care of my body, how to manage my time, a whole bunch of stuff like that. The time overseas really helped me to mature and grow up and learn a few things.”

These Pelicans have most certainly turned quite a few heads since the playoffs began. We shouldn’t deal too much with hypotheticals, but it’s interesting to wonder what this team’s ceiling would’ve been had DeMarcus Cousins not been lost for the season due to injury.

This is a confident bunch, however. They’ve beaten both the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets during the regular season. They’ve already shattered a lot of expert predictions with their performance in the first-round. The Pelicans feel like they can hang with anyone out West.

“As far as we want to go,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “I feel like we’ve competed with all the best teams in the league this whole season. We just got to come out, stay focused and do what we do.”

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Is LeBron Enough For Cavs To Get Through The East?

Cleveland’s offense has struggled through the first two games of the playoffs. Can the four-time MVP consistently bail them out? Spencer Davies writes.

Spencer Davies

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After a less-than-encouraging series opener versus the Indiana Pacers, LeBron James responded emphatically and led the Cleveland Cavaliers to a bounce back 100-97 victory to even things up at one game apiece.

Scoring the first 13 points of the game itself, The King was a one-man wrecking crew out of the gate and carried that momentum throughout all four quarters of Game 2. His 46 points were James’ second-highest scoring mark between the regular season and the playoffs. In addition, he shot above 70 percent from the field for the sixth time this year.

The four-time MVP pulled down 12 rebounds total, and but all but one of those boards were defensive—the most he’s had since Saint Patrick’s Day in Chicago a month ago.

What James did was another classic instance where LeBron reminds us that through all the injuries, drama, and on-court issues, whatever team he’s on always has a chance to go all the way. But having said all of that—can the Cavaliers realistically depend on that kind of spectacular effort for the rest of the postseason? It’s a fair question.

Kevin Love is a solid secondary go-to guy, but he’s struggled to find his rhythm in the first two games. He’s done a solid job defensively between both, but he’s getting banged up and is dealing with knocked knees and a reported torn thumb ligament in the same hand he broke earlier in the season.

Love has admitted that he’d like more post touches instead of strictly hanging out on the perimeter, but it’s on him to demand the ball more and he knows it. But finding that flow can be challenging when James has it going and is in all-out attack mode.

Kyle Korver came to the rescue for Cleveland as the only shooter that consistently converted on open looks. Outside of those three, and maybe J.R. Smith, really, there hasn’t been a tangible threat that’s a part of the offense during this series.

We all pondered whether or not the “new guys” would be able to step up when their respective numbers were called. So far, that hasn’t been the case for the most part.

Jordan Clarkson looks rushed with tunnel vision. Rodney Hood has had good body language out there, but seems reluctant to shoot off dribble hand-offs and is second-guessing what he wants to do. The hustle and effort from Larry Nance Jr. is obvious, but he’s also a good bet to get into foul trouble. Plus, he’s had some struggles on an island against Pacer guards.

As for George Hill, the good news is the impact on the floor just based on his mere presence on both ends (game-high +16 on Wednesday), but he hasn’t really done any scoring and fouled out of Game 2.

Maybe these things change on the road, who knows. But those four, the rest of the rotation, absolutely have to step up in order for the Cavaliers to win this series and fend off this hungry Indiana group, which brings us to another point.

Let’s not forget, the offensive issues aren’t simply because of themselves. After all, the Cavs were a team that had little trouble scoring the basketball in the regular season, so give a ton of credit to the Pacers’ scheme and McMillan’s teachings to play hard-nosed.

Unlike many teams in the league, the strategy for them is to pressure the ball and avoid switches as much as possible on screens. The more they go over the pick and stick on their assignments, the better chance they have of forcing a bad shot or a turnover. That’s what happened in Game 1 and in the majority of the second half of Game 2.

Cleveland has also somewhat surprisingly brought the fight on defense as well. In the first two contests of the series, they’ve allowed under 100 points. Lue’s said multiple times that they’re willing to give up the interior buckets in order to secure the outside, and it’s worked. It doesn’t seem smart when there’s a yellow-colored layup line going on at times, but it certainly paid off by only allowing 34 percent of Indiana’s threes to go down.

Still, looking ahead to what the Cavaliers can do in the playoffs as a whole, it doesn’t bode well. They’re not only locked in a tug-of-war with Indiana, but if they get past them, they could have a Toronto Raptors group chomping at the bit for revenge.

If they’re having this much trouble in the first round, what should make us believe they can barrel through the Eastern Conference as they’ve done in the past?

It’s not quite as obvious or as bad as Cleveland’s 2007 version of James and the rest, but it feels eerily similar for as much as he’s put the team on his back so far. The organization better hope improvement comes fast from his supporting cast, or else it could be a longer summer than they’d hoped for.

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