Change can be difficult. If the Timberwolves have had any sort of stability over the past 6 years, it’s been in the form of a skinny Spaniard with a gift for passing the ball. Losing a player (and human) of Ricky Rubio’s magnitude was not, and is not, an easy transition for a sizable chunk of Wolves fandom.
Shortly after the announcement that Ricky Rubio was being sent to Utah for a first round pick, word came in that Tom Thibodeau and Scott Layden had already found their replacement in Jeff Teague.
This was tough news for some to take in for 2 reasons. One being, as mentioned above the loss of a fan favorite. The other being Teague’s basketball history.
To be fair, Teague’s career has been a good one overall. Since he first started getting his share of playing time, his averages has stayed steady in the 15 points per game range. He’s nowhere near Rubio in terms of passing, but he did put up a career high in assists a season ago at 7.8 per game.
But bare stats can be deceiving. What makes Teague’s career so excellent is that he has always done a great job fitting in with teammates. With the exception of his last year in Atlanta, he played around the talents of Al Horford, Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver and DeMarre Carroll perfectly. At the peak of the Hawks, which occurred in the first half of the 2014-15 season, they played the ideal form of basketball in terms of watchability.
They moved the ball, played within themselves, and never settled for a bad shot. All that happening, and Teague was a key component to their success. Again reverting stats, yes, but he was the team’s leading scorer and assist man that year. He (and 3 of his teammates) made his first, and currently only, All-Star game that year.
He got there by running effective pick and roll with Horford and Millsap, and occasionally deferring to Korver and Carroll. And when he played off the ball, he played well. He shot 41 percent from three-point land off catch and shoot, and 42 percent from the field overall. A year later, when his point guard talents were less on display, his catch-and-shoot numbers managed to rise to 48 from the field and 49 from deep.
Last season with Indiana, those numbers dropped to the mid-30s. In short, we don’t know what his catch and shoot effectiveness will be in Minnesota. As badly as the Wolves need three point shooting, Teague’s effectiveness has varied by the year. But he can do it. He’s done it before.
Having a scoring point guard is, based on the acquisitions he made this summer, essential in Tom Thibodeau’s offense going forward. Ricky Rubio has a lot of gifts: passing, defending, disrupting passing lanes, and playing catch with cute kids. But, as much as he worked to improve, he’s never been able to string together a full season of consistent shooting.
The offense, as it should, will be run through Jimmy Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Andrew Wiggins. Jeff Teague’s role will be to bring the ball up the floor, yes, but it won’t be to run the offense. Not in the way that Wolves fans have grown accustomed to watching over the past 6 years.
There’s no perfect comparison for the rest of the league, but look at George Hill in Utah, Patrick Beverley in Houston, or even the way Teague played last year in Indiana as a reference for how his role may look next year. All are good traditional point guards in their own right, but played off their team’s star wing (Hayward, Harden, George) to be most effective. Of course, Beverley and Hill are both stellar on-ball and team defenders, an area Teague’s game is severely lacking.
But at the price that the Wolves were realistically looking at, the reports that Hill didn’t want to play in Thibs’ system, and the fact that Rubio simply does not fit in what Thibodeau envisions for his team, the Teague signing makes more sense.
But that still doesn’t make this an easy transition for Wolves fans, even if there is some basketball sense to it. Teague’s effectiveness offensively, while certain to be there in some regard will be a mystery. Will the Wolves get All-Star Jeff Teague, or will they get former All-Star Jeff Teague? Shooting aside, Wolves fans knew they were getting gritty defense and a cohesive offense with Ricky Rubio. The mystery that surrounds his successor is what draws an uneasy feeling for some.
For now, the waiting game is all that can happen. Overall, the Wolves have improved substantially with the Butler acquisition alone. Taj Gibson will provide depth up front. Teague? He’s no Ricky Rubio, but the responsibility (and the pressure) bestowed on Rubio is a different beast.
He’ll have his own challenges to deal with as Minnesota’s new point guard, but they’ll be unique to him.