Jeff Teague Is Already a Essential Piece of the Minnesota Timberwolves

Breaking down how and why Jeff Teague is an import part of the Timberwolves early success.

This past off-season the Minnesota Timberwolves shipped fan favorite Ricky Rubio to the Utah Jazz, reportedly at his request. The trade came after several years of frustration from missing the playoffs and continuously hearing his name involved in trade rumors.

The Rubio years weren’t fruitful by any stretch of the imagination for the Timberwolves. Matched up with Kevin Love, they were anointed to save the franchise from being mired in the abominable mess that they found it in. But poor free agent signings and bad draft selections quickly derailed that. A few short years later, Love was traded to the Cavs and a new era was ushered in. One that left Ricky Rubio, simultaneously, the only remaining player from those dark days, and in the past.

Whether you cringed at his poor shooting, observed in awe of his court vision, respected his defense, or just liked to watch him flash that smile, it was tough to watch Rubio go this past summer, knowing that he gave his all to the franchise while he was in a Timberwolves uniform.

For good measure, the Wolves parted ways with number 5 pick of the 2016 draft, Kris Dunn, and quickly re-upped by signing Jeff Teague, the once All-Star point guard who was coming off a quietly solid year in Indiana, to a 3 year/ $57 million dollar contract. A lot of fans, including myself were skeptical about this. Why disturb the chemistry you have between Rubio and the young core of Towns and Wiggins? Especially when you have actual pieces coming in like Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson -- who could be the final links in a team pining for a playoff spot? It definitely wasn’t a perfect relationship between Ricky and Tom Thibodeau, but toward the end of the season, Rubio was really starting to make some strides offensively, and after the trade, it was looking like the Wolves were going to have to scrap that and start from square one with a new point guard.

I’ve been reticent to attack this topic for mainly those marks of uncertainty. In the very dark and hopeless years of Timberwolves basketball, Rubio was the one to keep a lot of faithful Timberwolves fans watching. You just knew he was always going to give it everything he had until the final buzzer. He wasn’t the championship caliber point guard you’d hope for; a lot of the time he struggled just to live up to expectations. But you always had the feeling he’d pull it together one of these years -- and you wanted it to be while he was in Minnesota. So to have Jeff Teague come in and take over that spot, it was a tough and uncertain course.

Through the first 14 games of the season, Teague is averaging 13.9 points per game on 44% shooting. He’s also bringing in 7.4 assist and 3.1 rebounds per game. For a team like the Timberwolves, who are practically loaded with offensive talent without Teague, numbers like these are imperative coming from your point guard.

The knock on Teague coming into the season was the Rubio was younger, a more skilled defender, and a better leader. As far as youth is concerned, Teague’s number more than address that. Defensively, Teague is averaging career-high 1.9 steals. The exact same number of steals that Ricky Rubio is averaging. Teague currently has 26 steals on the year to Rubio’s 28. The marginal difference obviously isn’t costing the Wolves and wins, and Teague isn’t even the defensive anchor to this team. As far as leadership, maybe he isn’t the best leader. He turns the ball over, struggles to get his teammates involved at times, and has shown a tendency to disappear in the scoring column when the Wolves need him most. But this is overlooking the simple fact that on a team with Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, and Jimmy Butler, Jeff Teague is far from the leader on the court. Which is maybe what the Timberwolves needed.

Sure, Rubio is a fantastic floor general and a great moral guy when things got thick, but the veteran experience of a guy that has been the playoffs, been an all-star, and has played on some very efficient and dangerous teams is far more valuable off the floor. The Wolves needed to remove the safety blanket of Ricky Rubio and fully commit to placing either the blame or the praise in the hands of their star players.

Now, Rubio is a fantastic point guard who still doesn’t get the praise he deserves for everything he does for his team. And for someone that put so much into this franchise, it’s upsetting that he isn’t going to be around to be rewarded for all he’s done. So this isn’t a slight to Rubio -- it’s not even meant to compare him to Jeff Teague. But you have to understand, the Timberwolves haven’t had a point guard who averaged at least 14 and 7 since Sam Cassell in the 03-04 season. The last season the Timberwolves made the playoffs.

The great thing about having a point guard like Teague is that even though he is older, his game is molded to preserve himself. He isn’t built on speed or driving hard to the basket. He makes smart passes, creates a shot when he needs to, can run a finely tuned pick & roll, and is a perfect example of what a pass-first point guard should be. Fans that worry about his age or contract length should take a big sigh a relief right about now. Jeff Teague is built to stand the test of time.

His shooting has been a point of emphasis for the Timberwolves offense this year. Going from a guard who struggled to hit 40% from inside the three-point line, to a point guard who is hitting at 44% overall, has opened up so many windows for the Timberwolves offense. He and Towns have developed a great P&R chemistry already early on in the season and Teague has been comfortable using that pick to either get in the lane or pull up at the nail.

His comfortability behind the three-point line has been even more refreshing for the Timberwolves. While defenses struggle to contain the brigade of Towns, Wiggins, and Butler, Jeff Teague is able to drift out to the arc and calmly sink 42% of his three-pointers; a career high for Teague and second on the team only to Nemanja Bjelica (henceforth known as NemanGOD).