The Pacers' new point guard has provided the distribution Indiana hoped for during the first three games of the season, but Teague was shaky on the defensive end. Will these trends persist, or is he just still getting his feet wet?
The Indiana Pacers' offseason acquisition of Jeff Teague was a move to transform the franchise's immediate future, but it also had the feel of an atonement for the past.
Pacers President Larry Bird had the chance to add Teague, an Indianapolis native, to a point guard-needy roster in the 2009 NBA Draft but opted for Tyler Hansbrough instead. Though the Pacers found success in subsequent seasons, they never developed a strong passing offense or benefited from a high assist per game rate from their point guards. Meanwhile, Teague went on to average in the ballpark of seven assists per game in three straight seasons from 2012-15, often giving Bird a front-row seat to witness the offensive dimension he passed on in 2009 en route to an All-Star selection in 2015.
Pacers fans' excitement thus was understandable when the organization traded for Teague -- the team finally would have a high-level passer at the point, even if it meant sacrificing significant point-of-attack defense with George Hill, whom Indiana traded to Utah in the three-team deal that brought Teague home.
Those were the assumptions about Teague joining the Pacers: a new dimension offensively and a dropoff defensively. Three games into the 2016-17 season, those assumptions have held true.
It's pretty plain to see Teague is still getting his feet wet, as are the Pacers on the whole. Furthermore, three games hardly constitute a sufficient sample size for determining positive or negative overall impact. That said, it's fair to wonder whether this pattern of play will persist with Teague given it is in step with the suspicions going into the season.
Let's take a look at the specifics.
While losses at Brooklyn and Chicago proved the Pacers' desire for a consistently faster-paced and higher-scoring offense still is a work in progress, Teague has stepped in and done his part in that endeavor immediately. In Indiana's first three contests of the season, Teague recorded eight, seven and eight assists. Those totals might not measure up to what the NBA's elite point guards and/or offensive facilitators are notching these days, but they sure are a major step up from what prior Pacers starting point guards were averaging. At least in the season opener against Dallas, there was a noticeably enhanced fluidity to the Pacers' offense, thanks in no small part to Teague's creative ability.
Further to the point, all of Indiana's other four starters are averaging double-digit points per game, and with the exception of higher-volume shooter Paul George, they are doing so at clips of above 50 percent from the field. That speaks to good positioning and looks at the basket, which in turn speak to strong facilitation. The Pacers certainly are benefiting from Teague's presence and passing on the offensive end. It is worth noting Teague hasn't shot and scored particularly well himself, averaging just eight points over the first three games at a 20-percent clip, and perhaps that has contributed to Indiana's lack of consistency on offense. However, I believe once these Pacers become more familiar with one another and settle into their roles, not only will Teague improve in those facets, but the offense will experience a net positive with his passing in the fold regardless.
The flip side?
This is not unexpected. The Pacers and those who follow them knew they'd be giving up a bit on the defensive end with Teague. After he made a gritty and feisty start defensively against the Mavericks in the season opener, Dallas guards Deron Williams and J.J. Barea pretty much got everything they wanted, whether from beyond the arc (Williams shot 62.5 percent from 3-point range) or driving to the rim (Barea seriously is an NBA version of Wes Welker, or someone similar). Jeremy Lin scored 21 points on 12 shots and made nine assists the following Friday in Brooklyn. Finally, Rajon Rondo moved the ball all around Teague and to his Bulls teammates, recording 13 assists and ensuring his four fellow starters and Doug McDermott, Chicago's leading scorer against the Pacers, shot at clips above 50 percent.
Teague certainly is not to blame for all the Pacers' defensive woes in their first week of play, but opposing point guards clearly did get the best of him. He likely can play better defense to some degree, but thus far, the suspicion that his play on that end of the floor would be a downgrade from what Indiana had grown used to with George Hill has rung true and is a cause for concern looking ahead.
What everyone needs to remember, though, is that things might not always be as they seem. Teague's advanced defensive stats haven't looked too different from Hill's in recent seasons and even over the course of their careers. Both guards' career defensive ratings stand at 105. Many tend to overlook that Hill wasn't the best at defending the league's best and quickest point guards himself. Given that Teague still is finding himself on this team, as are multiple other new additions, I'm willing to see if he grows into a better defender as the season progresses.
Again -- small sample size. We'll see what the Pacers have in Teague soon enough.