HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Jeff Teague is a man of few words.
He chooses his wisely and knows that two sometimes do the job better than a few. But the Atlanta Hawks’ point guard isn’t shy about his team. Not after what the Hawks did last season, sliding into that eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and then scaring the daylights out of the top-seeded Indiana Pacers in an entertaining seven-game series that served as yet another showcase for Teague.
He’s one of the league’s best young point guards who never seems to find his way into that conversation. With top 10 rankings in several key statistical categories, you could make the case that Teague should be included in any conversations about the top current point guards in the Eastern Conference, at least.
Teague, however, is content to let his play speak for him and keep his focus on the opportunity that awaits the Hawks in a revamped Eastern Conference. With an All-Star in Paul Millsap and a returning All-Star in Al Horford and coach Mike Budenholzer‘s system as their frame, Teague says that team people enjoyed watching last season and during that playoff series against the Pacers is back and ready for more.
I caught up with Teague Monday and pressed him for more than a few words …
NBA.com: The lasting image of this team for many people is what we saw of you against the Pacers in the playoffs. How is this team any different without any big offseason moves to speak of?
Jeff Teague: It’s definitely different right now because we have everybody healthy. So it’s definitely going to be a little different. Having Al back and in there to be a rim protector changes things for us. We’re definitely going to be better defensively with Al back in the mix. And just getting more comfortable with the system and having Thabo [Sefolosha] and Kent [Bazemore], who are really active defenders, come over really makes us a different team, a better team. For the offensive part, we’re still going to be exciting.
NBA.com: Is that the biggest change you’ve experienced since you’ve been with the Hawks, going from the previous systems to the one Bud brought here?
Jeff Teague: I just think this is a fun way to play basketball. We enjoy playing with one another. And the fans, if you watch the game it’s enjoyable. You don’t have to see one guy take all the shots or dominate the ball and post it up and do that all night. There’s going to be a lot of movement in this system, a lot of ball movement and plenty of guys touching the ball. It’s a beautiful game when it’s played that way. And it’s enjoyable for everybody, the guys on the floor and the folks in the stands.
NBA.com: NBA players are known for being spotted all over the place during the summer playing in different places and in the lab working on their games, but you stayed out of the spotlight. Where were you and what wrinkles have you added to your repertoire?
Jeff Teague: Man, honestly I think our whole team was here this summer just trying to stay close-knit and build our bond as a group. We were trying to stay together and work together. Me and DeMarre [Carroll] and Paul, I know we were here since June. We were working out in the weight room and shooting and working with [Hawks assistant Kenny Atkinson] when he was here. It was a chance for us to lock in and learn more about the system and sharpen some things. It was great for us. Hopefully, it pays off.
NBA.com: You seemed to finally hit that next level last season, too. You finally turned that corner and became a consistent problem for other teams to deal with, a difference maker on both ends. Did it feel that way to you, looking back on the season now?
Jeff Teague: I’ve just been trying to do what I can do. I feel like it was as much about the offense and the overall system as it was anything. It fit my game. It’s free-flowing and things aren’t determined by how many post-ups or touches someone gets, it’s just playing with a certain level of freedom that any point guard is looking for. When you play like that, it makes everybody’s job a lot easier. You see everybody’s numbers go up. Guys who had okay years before have great years here now because of the system and the way we play together.
NBA.com: There was so much drama here lately, from part-owner Bruce Levenson announcing that he was selling his stake in the team to Danny Ferry‘s highly publicized situation involving his comments about Luol Deng and the firestorm that created. How have you and the other leaders on this team weathered that storm and kept your focus on the tasks ahead?
Jeff Teague: We stayed insulated from all of that and just locked in on each other. We’re a good group of guys and we play for one another in that locker room. Coach Bud is a good guy and he’s straight up with us. He keeps everything up front and always treats us like men and tells us what’s going on and all you can do is respect. Me, knowing Danny, he’s a good dude. He’s never said or done anything disrespectful like that to me. So when those things came out I didn’t overreact or think he was a racist or anything like that. It’s a mistake that anybody could make. And he’s dealing with it right now. And hopefully, he can come back from it.
NBA.com: The Eastern Conference flipped overnight this summer. LeBron James goes back to Cleveland. Kevin Love follows. Pau Gasol to Chicago to play alongside Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah. Lance Stephenson from Indy to Charlotte and on and on. There seems to be a calm around here. Do you feel like the continuity, roster-wise, works in your favor when so many other teams are in transition of some sort or another?
Jeff Teague: I guess the East is always wide open. But we’re confident. We’re a confident group and we know opportunity is knocking and really staring us in the face. We have one year under our belts in this system and as a core group and that’s to our advantage. There are some quality guys on this team and we’re going to grow together. And I feel like getting Al back is going to be huge for us. That’s like getting a big-time free agent in a sense. But instead of talking about it, we have to go out there and show it every night. And that’s the fun part. We’ve got a huge opportunity in front of us and now that we’re healthy we can see how good we really are this season.