On July 1, 2017, just a few ticks past midnight Eastern Standard Time, the Minnesota Timberwolves quickly moved on from the Ricky Rubio era, a time defined by its unmaterialized everlasting hope, and leaped head first into the era of Jeff Teague, fourth banana on a (hopefully, probably) playoff team. It was a move met with the ever-present grunts and groans of NBA Twitter, if only because he wasn’t fortunate enough to be named Kyle Lowry or George Hill or have their same talent level (I stand guilty as charged). But was his signing really as bad as what many thought initially? What is Teague’s game like and how does he fit within Tom Thibodeau’s system? While the jury will continue to be out until well into the 2017-18 season, we can at least look at how Teague performed last season to gauge how well he will fit with the Wolves.
Teauge isn’t exactly the type of player who will wow you with freakish athleticism or mind bending passes. He often doesn’t stand out amongst the crowd, despite being, at worst, a top 15 player in the league’s deepest position. His overall strengths out number his weaknesses, even if they are fairly unremarkable.
After watching nearly every shot he took with the Indiana Pacers last season (which can be found here), one trend became obvious quickly: Jeff Teague loves hoisting up runners/floaters. When executed to perfection (think Steph Curry), the floater can be one of the most shake-your-head-at-in-wonder-slash-confusion shots in the NBA and can be effective for scoring over colossal and/or springy centers such as Rudy Gobert, Hassan Whiteside, and DeAndre Jordan. However, when executed poorly (think me in my pickup game the other day), the shot can fall gently to the court surface without touching anything but air or careening off the backboard hunting for the head of the nearest rebounder.
Jeff Teague lands somewhere in between. He lacks the graceful/mesmerizing touch of someone like Curry and when he misses it often results in an air ball, but more often than not the ball finds its way through the net.
It’s possible he falls back on his floater too frequently, however. deferring contact and an opportunity to go to the line for the high reaching arc of a shot that has become comfortable. But he hits them at high enough of a clip for them to remain a solid weapon in his arsenal.
Teague only connected on 205/425 shot attempts near the hoop last year (48.2%; Rubio, by comparison, hit 70/156 [44.9%]), which can partially be explained by his propensity to fall back on runners/floaters (though he shoots them from all over inside the 3-point line), but is mostly a result of his poor touch around the rim.
In addition, Teague’s lack of height (he’s 6’2”) and explosion when attacking the rim leaves him at risk for getting his shot blocked frequently.
However, where Teague figures to be rather dangerous within the Wolves’ system is in the pick-and-roll and as a spot up three-point shooter. Tom Thibodeau has often stressed the importance of the pick-and-roll within his offensive system and, while he may not be a clear upgrade over Rubio, Teague is the vastly superior pick-and-roll ball-handler. According to NBA.com/Stats, last season Teague functioned as the pick-and-roll ball-handler in 41.2% of all plays he was involved with, scoring 0.98 PPP (86th percentile), while Rubio scored 0.80 PPP (51st percentile) in 38.5% of all plays.
Teague is much swifter than one might imagine at first glance; his first step is deceptively quick, which he often utilizes to blow past defenders when in isolation (he boasted an isolation PPP of 1.02 last season, placing him in the 84th percentile of all qualifying players) as well as when they are fumbling to switch within the pick-and-roll. If the lane is too congested for a drive or pull up shot, Teague has the vision to dump off to the roll man or find a teammate open in the corner. He doesn’t make particularly flashy passes, but rarely do his passes not put his teammates in a good position to be dangerous with the ball.
Although he isn’t widely known as a sharp-shooter, Teague’s ability to knock down the open three will be welcomed within the newly renovated confines of Target Center. He’s a considerably better spot-up shooter (55.6% eFG%) than on pull ups (47.9% eFG%), but despite only landing in the 54th percentile in spot-up jumpers last season (0.97 PPP), Teague connected on 39.4% of his threes categorized as wide open (nearest defender 6 feet away or more) with Indiana. In his career, he’s never connected on less than 37% of his wide-open threes.
Teague’s ability to knock down open shots from beyond the arc will force opposing teams to respect and be aware of his location on the floor at all times. This isn’t a benefit the Wolves have had over the last few years. The mere presence of Teague, even if he doesn’t shoot much better than league average overall, will help space the floor to a degree and will provide the likes of Jimmy Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Andrew Wiggins much-needed room to operate.
As for on defense, Teague leaves a lot to be desired; however, he did have some success within the Atlanta Hawks’ system before ankle and wrist injuries began to nag at him. With the addition of Butler and Taj Gibson as well as the presumed continued growth of Wiggins and Towns, Teague’s defensive deficiencies could be covered to an extent. However, if the defense fails to congeal, he could be exposed on a nightly basis.
Overall, Jeff Teague is a fine player. He’s an upgrade for the Wolves in two offensive areas they needed it most – the pick-and-roll and three-point shooting – but is far from a world beater overall (too read AWAW’s own Zach Harper’s take on the Teague signing and to see a few sets in the Wolves’ system in which his skills may be best utilized, click here). He can be dangerous when he gets hot and has deceptive speed allowing him to get to the hoop, but perhaps too often falls back on runners/floaters and shies away from contact. His ceiling on defense is that of a league average on-ball and team defender, but will most likely fall closer to the “bad” end of the spectrum. The Jeff Teague signing will make the Wolves better, though to what extent remains to be seen.