How Much Is Jeff Teague Worth to Atlanta Hawks?

Peter EmerickSenior Writer IIMarch 26, 2013

Mar 4, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Atlanta Hawks guard Jeff Teague (0) reacts during the first half against the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

In a lot of ways Jeff Teague came out of nowhere this season, helping the Atlanta Hawks stay relevant in the Eastern Conference without Joe Johnson.

Teague is averaging 14.6 points, seven assists, 2.2 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game this season.

His points and assists per game are significantly up this season, even though he's averaging the exact same 33.1 minutes per game that he was last season.

With a playoff appearance all but sealed up for the sixth-straight season, it's clear to see that Teague is an integral and valuable player to the Atlanta Hawks' success.

The problem is that his current value to the Hawks is masked by the play of both Josh Smith, who's averaging 17.4 points, 8.4 rebounds and 4.3 assists, and Al Horford, who's averaging 17.4 points and 10.2 rebounds per game.

While most Hawks' fans realize Teague's value, understanding the situation Atlanta will be in during free agency this summer puts his value into an even clearer picture.

With the history surrounding Josh Smith's relationship with the Hawks, and their undeniable interest in trying to trade him, it's all but certain that he's going to test the free agent waters this offseason. 

That puts the Hawks in quite a predicament, especially when you consider that Devin Harris and Kyle Korver—the Hawks' fifth and sixth leading scorers—will also be free agents at the end of the year.

To say that there is uncertainty in what the Hawks' backcourt will look like next season would be a vast understatement. Korver and Harris could be gone, and Lou Williams will be hoping to come back from a season-ending ACL tear.

That leaves Jeff Teague in a Star Wars, "Obi Wan Kenobi, you're my only hope"-situation.

It all depends on what the Hawks decide to do in free agency, but there's a major chance that Teague could become the franchise's cornerstone overnight—at least in the backcourt.

Assuming the Hawks extend the requisite qualifying offer to Teague at the end of this season, he will quickly become the future of their franchise, alongside Al Horford, who's under contract through the 2015-16 season.

The question then becomes, is two seasons of improved performance from Teague enough to up his value to the point of considering him as a franchise player?

Yes, Teague is capable of being a franchise cornerstone, and it's because of what I like to call the "Derrick Rose factor."

No, it has nothing to do with torn ACLs. It has everything to do with being more than a prototypical point guard. 

Teague and Rose have a lot in common in terms of what they bring to the floor, and it starts with an explosiveness off the dribble that is hard to find in the NBA at point.

That agility and quickness off the dribble isn't enough on its own to carry Teague to the franchise level, though, and that's where his intelligence comes into play.

Teague is a very smart player. He reads passing lanes well, plays defense like it should be played, and most importantly, he rarely settles for contested jump shots.

His preference, as highlighted by his play, is defined by a controlled recklessness getting into the paint. When you mix that with his pure athleticism, it's easy to see that he's a rare specimen, even with the plethora of talent in the NBA.

At the young age of just 24, Teague's best days are ahead of him, and that's great news for the Hawks, who will be hurting for production next season if they aren't able to retain a majority of their roster in free agency.