Which Atlanta Hawks Player Has the Most Upside Right Now?

Jared Johnson@@jaredtjohnson21Featured ColumnistMay 20, 2014

Atlanta Hawks guard Jeff Teague (0), who tied his career high with 34 points, and teammate Paul Millsap, who recorded his first career triple-double with 19 points, 13 rebounds and 2210 assists, walk off the court during overtime of their NBA basketball game against the Toronto Raptors Tuesday, March 18, 2014, in Atlanta. Atlanta won 118-113. (AP Photo/David Tulis)
Dave Tulis/Associated Press

Some NBA players have the potential to become superstars. 

Whether for their quick rate of improvement, work ethic or sheer athleticism, there are guys that display the capability to attain greatness.

The Atlanta Hawks possess four players with the upside necessary to become an NBA superstar: Al Horford, Paul Millsap, Dennis Schroeder and Jeff Teague.

But who has the most upside of the four? Let's find out. 

Who are the other candidates?

The Hawks had one All-Star in 2014: forward Paul Millsap.

Millsap is a versatile scorer with decent athleticism at the power forward position who added a three-point shot to his arsenal this year (1.1 three-point makes per game). However, he is 29 years old and hasn't made significant year-to-year improvement. It's hard to see him moving past his status as a fringe All-Star player, which is still nothing to be ashamed of.

Paul Millsap led the Hawks in points and rebounds per game in 2013-14.
Paul Millsap led the Hawks in points and rebounds per game in 2013-14.Jason DeCrow/Associated Press

Center Al Horford may very well have taken this spot, if it weren't for injury struggles hindering his development. However, he is one of the best big men in the Eastern Conference when healthy.

Considering Horford is almost 28 and also has only made small improvements in the past few years, he also seems destined to walk the line between All-Star and very solid starter in the near future.

Point guard Dennis Schroeder is the wild card. 

After the Las Vegas Summer League last year, Kurt Helin of Pro Basketball Talk called Schroeder, the No. 17 pick in the 2013 NBA draft, the potential "steal of the draft."

If you watch the following YouTube highlights from Schroeder's Vegas Summer League season, it's easy to see why Helin thought that. (Warning: Background music in video contains NSFW language)

Schroeder did underwhelm in his rookie year, averaging just 3.7 points, 1.9 assists and 1.2 turnovers in 13.1 minutes per game. But the 20-year-old's game is still extremely raw. 

If Schroeder does reach his enormous potential, it will likely be because he goes to another team. Jeff Teague is already on the roster, and there would be no use keeping two upper-echelon point guards on one team.

The rest of the Hawks roster includes some solid players, but none of them are likely to reach an All-Star game in their careers.

Except for Jeff Teague.

The Case for Teague

Teague has the skill and athleticism to be one of the top few point guards in the NBA.
Teague has the skill and athleticism to be one of the top few point guards in the NBA.Darron Cummings/Associated Press

Jeff Teague has the most upside of any player on the Atlanta Hawks. 

This is not to say he is a raw talent, because his game already shows many signs of veteran refinement. But at just 25 years old, he has the potential to become even greater. 

Teague completed an impressive feat of improvement this season, according to a tweet from Hawks beat writer Chris Vivlamore. 

He nearly completed the same feat with assists, but ended up failing short (6.7 assists per game in 2013-14, compared to 7.2 in 2012-13). But in the 29 games that Al Horford played, Teague averaged a fantastic 8.2 assists per game.

Once Horford went down, Teague really started to show off his scoring chops. He averaged 17.9 points per game after the All-Star break on 48.2 percent shooting, up from 15.6 and 41.2 before the break. 

During the playoffs, he averaged 19.3 points per game despite facing the Indiana Pacers, who ranked No. 1 in NBA defensive efficiency during the regular season. There were times when the Pacers just couldn't stop him, as his Game 1 highlights demonstrate.

If Teague can continue to build on his second-half scoring improvement while maintaining the passing and playmaking talents he exhibited with Horford in the lineup...watch out NBA.

Players who consistently come up with the big plays in the clutch have the killer instinct necessary to become a star.

Quite simply, Teague steps up for his team with the game on the line.

According to NBA.com's clutch statistics—"clutch" being used to describe situations in which the point differential between two teams is five points or fewer with five minutes or less remaining in the game—Teague ranked No. 11 in the NBA in clutch points per game in 2013-14 among players who played at least 100 such minutes. Of the 10 players ahead of him, only James Harden, LeBron James, Monta Ellis and Damian Lillard shot a better percentage than Teague.

How does Teague stack up with such a famous clutch assassin as Kevin Durant?

Jeff Teague vs. Kevin Durant: Clutch Stats
Clutch Minutes/GamePPGRPGAPGFG%3FG%FT%
NBA.com Clutch Stats

Teague may be even more effective than the MVP in crunch time. 

It Was His First Year in Mike Budenholzer's System

What made Teague's improvement this year even more impressive was that he was playing with a rookie head coach in a totally new offensive system.

According to an article by Tim Bontemps of the New York Post, Teague said Budenholzer's system was a lot faster than what he was used to.

"In previous years here in Atlanta we played pretty slow pace, ISO and posting up on the block. But he [Budenholzer] wanted to get out, get up and down and get a lot of shots up and play a lot faster," Teague said.

Mike Budenholzer's uptempo offense is well-suited to Teague's abilities.
Mike Budenholzer's uptempo offense is well-suited to Teague's abilities.Jason Getz/Associated Press/Associated Press

Budenholzer's system meshed well with Teague's top-end speed and dribbling ability, but it's still a big adjustment for any point guard to change the style of offense he runs.

Bontemps also included a quote from Budenholzer about his young point guard:

"There’s been a little change in personnel, change in style and system, and there’s a lot of responsibility for him, and he’s really taken that and embraced it," Budenholzer said.

No doubt, increased familiarity with Budenholzer's system will only help Teague continue his improvement.


Teague hasn't yet been selected to an All-Star Game, but he has all-star talent. 

He's only 25, he's improved every season he's played in the league, he's dependable with the game on the line and he's still adjusting to Mike Budenholzer's offensive and defensive systems.

At best, he can be a perennial All-Star and top-10 player in the NBA when he hits his prime. But even if he doesn't quite reach that lofty ceiling, he can still be a terrific player.

Note: All stats used are from Basketball-Reference.com, unless otherwise indicated.


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