After admitting on 1070 The Fan’s The Dan Dakich Show that the Pacers miss George Hill, Kevin Pritchard explained that they traded him because they needed more speed and another player who “could make plays on the offensive end.” He immediately followed that up with this particularly telling nugget:
“...and (Jeff) Teague desperately wants to be here, so that was one of the critical, important pieces. We knew he wanted to be here.”
Reading between the lines, it can probably be assumed that Hill did not assure them of the same.
With that in mind, those endless debates about trade winners and losers should be rendered moot. Still, the point remains that it’s a shame that the Pacers couldn’t find a way to acquire the best parts of both players.
How did Jeff Teague impress?
His durability, first and foremost. After suffering a partial tear to his patella tendon, he played in all 82 games. (On a side note: Props to Indiana’s medical and training staff. It cannot be purely coincidental that David West (torn ACL), Monta Ellis (unspecified procedure on left knee), AND Jeff Teague missed ZERO games in their first respective seasons with the Pacers after incurring a knee injury with another team the season prior. That’s impressive.)
However, whether due to lingering rust, adjusting to a new system, being back home, or a combination of all three, it took Teague an extended period of time to find his footing with the Pacers.
Once he did, though, he was fantastic during Indiana’s five-game win streak in early January. In fact, he arguably fueled it with his willingness to trust the pass.
“When you play that type of basketball, I think it’s contagious and I think it starts with your point guard," Nate McMillan told the Indy Star’s Nate Taylor after his team’s victory over the Orlando Magic. "Jeff has been that guy. He is really doing a good job of establishing that ball movement when he’s in the paint.”
Over that stretch of games, Indiana’s point guard ranked fourth in the league in assists per game (11.4) and fourth in assist points created (27.2). As quick as he was at accelerating into the paint to dish the ball to Myles Turner from mid-range he was equally patient waiting for Paul George to set a decoy backscreen before curling to the top of the key for an open three. It was exactly the sort of well-oiled execution that made the stagnant, sticky offense that recurred during some of the lower points of the season more frustrating.
In that regard, it’s a testament to Teague’s speed and craftiness that he somehow managed to average nearly the same number of drives (9.0) with Monta’s off the catch shooting (32.1%) beside him as he did last season (10.8) with Kyle Korver’s (40.7%).
On the whole, Teague put up strikingly similar numbers to Mike Conley’s contract-year.
Yet, while this comparison has come up repeatedly in discussions regarding Teague’s market value, it’s important to note that his defense doesn’t hold up against the $153 million man.
How did Jeff Teague disappoint?
George Hill, Jeff Teague is not. Where Hill was capable of staying attached to his man’s hip through high ball screens, Jeff Teague routinely lags from behind. Except against non-shooters, this deficiency dictates that Myles Turner will have to hedge to force guards to dribble away from the basket until Teague can recover.
Here, rather than playing a sort of one-man zone in the paint, Turner had to venture out to the three-point line to dissuade Kemba Walker from rising up for the long-ball.
It’s not a hard show, but it still pulled Indiana’s lone rim protector away from the basket. Some — albeit, not all — of Paul George’s perceived defensive lapses could also be pegged on Teague. When he and Turner couldn’t contain the 1-5 pick and roll, George would have to sag off his man into the paint to help. If he couldn’t recover fast enough to closeout, the result would oftentimes be a wide open three.
Of course, it’s hard to forget exactly how nightmarish switching was during the playoffs. When Jeff Teague and Paul George switched the 1-3 pick and roll, LeBron James salivated. When they didn’t, Kyrie Irving cooked. This miscommunication, wherein the Pacers were overtly indecisive, should adequately serve as case in point.
Sliding Teague over to J.R. Smith or (cringes) Kyle Korver might have mitigated some of these issues, but not so long as the other option is Monta Ellis.
Free agency. Last week’s media availability indicated that he wants to be here, but the New York Knicks will reportedly come knocking. Kevin Pritchard has gone on record saying it is his preference to pay players appropriate value. Either way, Teague’s value would undeniably be higher if he played beside someone capable of opening driving lanes while masking his defensive flaws. Jeff Teague can’t have George Hill, but he could sure use someone like him.