Scaletta’s Summer Top 100 is a ranking of returning NBA players. For a full explanation of our methodology, read our intro.
Jeff Teague begins the new chapter in his NBA career next year as an Indiana Pacer. The Pacers, who have been revamping their mentality and strategy for the last two seasons have overhauled the squad that made it to the Eastern Conference Finals just three seasons ago. They also replaced their highly successful coach, Frank Vogel.
Trading for Teague is a major step in what GM Larry Bird has been striving for: giving the Pacers a “true” point guard who can run the team and take some of the pressure off Paul George. How much the new acquisition will help is one of the big questions facing the Pacers next season.
Teague is one season removed from being an All-Star, and he could get back to the same level in Indy. Over the last four years, he’s quietly established himself as one of the most consistent point guards in the NBA, amassing 2,090 assists and 4,871 points over that span. Only four players in the league are better than him on both counts:
That’s some pretty good company he’s in. And while he’s not quite on the same level as all of them, he’s closer than most people might think. And in Indianapolis where he’s the clear No. 2 man on the roster, there’s a decent chance his numbers can go up. Last season, he actually averaged 19.8 points and 7.5 assists per 36 minutes, which sets his ceiling at averages of about 20 points and eight dimes. That is certainly All-Star-caliber performance.
Where Teague might struggle more is in playing alongside another ball-dominant player. While he was in Atlanta, the team shared the shots and the ball, but he was unquestionably the primary ball handler while he was on the court. Playing with Paul George, that could change some. It will be interesting to see how Nate McMillan cobbles these pieces together and what kind of offense is devised around them. But if there’s a stumbling stone here, it’s that Teague and PG13 never quite figure how to play together, and Teague exits stage right next summer.
Where Teague excels the most is on drives. According to the tracking stats at NBA.com, he was fifth in drives per game, 12th in points off drives and fifth in passes out of drives. No player both scored and passed out of drives more than Teague. And that kind of balance helps him and his teammates to be effective. Last season, the Hawks scored 14.0 points per game on his 12.4 potential assists, the equivalent of a 56.5 effective field goal percentage.
With the Pacers trying to play a more Golden State Warriors-version of small ball and surrounding Teague with players who can drain the deep ball, he should be a nice fit as a drive-and-kick point guard who can both score and willingly kick it out, .
With a -1.81 Defensive Real Plus-Minus, Teague’s defensive numbers aren’t worth writing home about. But his defensive dashboard shows that opponents shot just 39.9 percent from the field and 33.6 percent from deep when he was the closest defender on the play. That’s 3.8 and 1.2 percentage points below their respective season averages.
So this is a case of which numbers do you want to believe.
The Hawks’ defensive rating with Teague on the court last year was 100.9 and just 96.0 when he was on the bench. By contrast, it was 95.7 when backup Dennis Schroder was on the court and 101.0 when the young German sat. That would support the DRPM numbers.
The eye test suggests a bit of both might be true, with Teague’s level of defense having much to do with his level of commitment. After the break, when Teague buckled down, the Hawks’ defensive rating dropped to 96.9 with the starter on the court, roughly the same as Schroder’s 96.9. And opponents shot 7.2 percentage points below their season averages.
When engaged, Teague is a plus defender, but he must be engaged.