Can Jeff Teague Make NBA Playoffs His Coming out Party?

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Can Jeff Teague Make NBA Playoffs His Coming out Party?
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Jeff Teague's career has been on the kind of quiet, easy-to-miss climb that doesn't conform to our preferred NBA breakout narrative. For five years, it was easy to ignore him.

Until now.

Teague dropped 28 points against the Indiana Pacers to lead the Atlanta Hawks in a stunning 101-93 victory over the No. 1 seed in Game 1 of the two teams' opening-round series. The matchup against Indy gives the Hawks point guard the ideal conditions to show how far he's come in a relatively brief NBA career.

He's primed for a breakout, just not the kind we're used to.

 

Arrival? More Like "Already Here"

Teague isn't the "burst on the scene" type. Instead, he's gradually improved over the course of his NBA career. His PER has increased in every season, starting at 11.8 as a rookie and topping out this year at 17.1, per Basketball-Reference.com.

The same is true of his scoring rate, which has also gone up every year since 2009-10.

Jeff Teague's Gradual Improvement
Points Per 36 Min PER
2009-10 11.4 11.0
2010-11 13.5 14.6
2011-12 13.7 15.8
2012-13 16.0 16.8
2013-14 18.5 17.1

Basketball-Reference.com

No wonder, then, that the Hawks happily matched the four-year, $32 million offer sheet Teague signed with the Milwaukee Bucks this past summer. You don't let a reliable young player who keeps getting better get away, especially not at that price.

And it's not just Teague's statistical improvements that have gone largely unnoticed. Note, too, that he's led Atlanta to the postseason in every year of his career.

Sure, a lot of the credit for the Hawks' consistent success goes to a weak conference and bigger names like Josh Smith or Al Horford (neither of whom had anything to do with Atlanta's playoff entry this year, by the way), but Teague deserves praise for being an integral part of consistently successful teams.

So as he's tearing the Pacers apart, let's not kid ourselves; Teague has been a darn good player for quite a while.

 

Running Wild

Quiet as his climb has been, Teague's huge Game 1 performance against Indiana was deafening.

Per Shane Young of 8 Points, 9 Seconds:

Teague scored a playoff-career-high 28 points while hitting 9-of-19 field goals, but that doesn’t do him justice for how much he mentally and physically drained Indiana in Game 1. You could search to find some more meaningful phrases, but nothing fits the bill better than:  “They can’t contain me.”

He pierced the Pacers for a whopping 13 drives in 35 minutes, per SportVU data provided to NBA.com, constantly working his way into the lane for layups, mid-range shots and kickouts to open shooters. Indiana scrambled throughout the contest to somehow contain Teague while still recovering to perimeter assignments.

As the final score attests, the Pacers failed in those tasks.

And let's not forget the nasty crossover with which Teague completely shed Evan Turner.

So dominant was Teague in Atlanta's win that one of the leauge's best perimeter defenders might soon be called upon to cross match in an effort to slow him down:

You don't draw Paul George if you're not dangerous. As much as anything, the adjustments Teague is forcing the Pacers to make after just one game speak to his impact.

 

Saw It Coming

Teague entered the postseason on a roll, earning Player of the Week honors in the Eastern Conference for the second week of April.

Plays like this one against the Miami Heat were a big reason why.

In some ways, what he's doing against the Pacers is just a continuation of his closing run.

It's hard to ignore the ease with which he sliced up Indiana's defense in Game 1, but in looking at his season statistics, Teague really didn't do anything out of the ordinary. On the year, he averaged 9.9 drives per game, fifth-best in the league, per NBA.com.

There aren't many players more effective at breaking down the first layer of defense than Teague, whose work in that role is a big reason the Hawks have been so dangerous when they spread the floor with four three-point threats alongside him.

With Teague on the court, Atlanta's regular-season offensive rating improved by 1.4 points while its defense as five points stingier, per NBA.com. And when Teague took the floor with Kyle Korver, DeMarre Carrol, Paul Millsap and Pero Antic to form the aforementioned floor-spacing quintet, the Hawks scored at a clip of 106.1 points per 100 possessions in the regular season, a figure that would have ranked in the league's top 10.

In short, we should have seen this coming.

 

A Fitting Narrative

USA TODAY Sports

Unfortunately for Teague, no matter how well he plays the rest of this postseason, he won't get the credit he deserves for sticking it to the Pacers. That's because whenever a team like Indiana craters in such high-profile fashion, the opponent gets overlooked.

You'll read a dozen headlines about Indiana falling apart for every one about Teague, the homegrown Indianapolis product, tearing it down.

That's probably just fine by him, though.

Teague's not really the typical "breakout" type. Never has been.

Soft spoken by nature, Atlanta's point guard will be content to quietly improve without the look-at-me demeanor we've seen from breakout stars in the past.

That's a fitting route for Teague to take. He's breaking out on his own terms.

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