Mike Budenholzer got in Jeff Teague’s face — more than once — this season.
The Hawks’ head coach also sat down with his point guard and showed him video, got on him to be more aggressive, offered encouraging words, shared a laugh, let him know the basketball would be in his hands. It was all part of a season-long process to help Teague elevate his game.
Teague just completed his best professional season. He did so while learning and running the new offensive system installed by the first-year head coach.
“I feel like he took my game to another level, just putting the confidence in me, believing me and not being hesitant with me,” Teague said Monday after the Hawks’ season ended with a first-round playoff loss to the Pacers. “He gets in my face. He gets on me. He tells me what I need to do. He sits me down when he needs to. He just really knows what he’s doing.”
Teague averaged 16.5 points, 6.7 assists, 2.6 rebounds, 1.1 steals and 32.2 minutes in 79 games, all starts. He missed only three games this season — because of an ankle sprain. He scored almost two more points per game than his previous best of last season. Teague increased his scoring average in each of his five seasons.
The 25-year-old Teague really made a name for himself in the postseason. In the Hawks’ seven-game series with the Pacers he averaged 19.3 points, 5.0 assists, 3.7 rebounds, 1.0 steals and 34.6 minutes. He so befuddled the Pacers early in the series that they were forced to have All-Star small forward Paul George, who is seven inches taller, guard him. Fellow guard Lou Williams said Teague “turned the corner to the player he is going to be in the future.”
So, what did Budenholzer say when he got in Teague’s face?
“Some of that will stay between Jeff and I, but I think the one thing that I think is fair to say is that he really responded well,” Budenholzer said. “When we pushed him and when we got on him, I don’t think I can say 100 percent of the time, but it was a real credit to him how often he responded in a positive way, and he went out (and did) whatever it was we were asking him to do or just generally giving everything that he could.
“For a coach, when you push somebody and really encourage them to do things even harder, longer, better, smarter, and they respond, that is a good sign. He wants to be coached. He wants to be good.”
The coaching will not stop. Teague said he plans to spend much of his summer in Atlanta working on his game. He wants to get stronger. He wants to work on his overall game. He wants to study more film. He wants to get in his head coach’s ear. Good thing his mother made him get his own home in Atlanta.
Teague said he believes he has the game to be an elite point guard in the NBA.
It looks as if the Hawks made a good move when they matched the four-year, $32 million offer sheet from the Bucks when they came calling on Teague last summer. In Milwaukee, he would have been reunited with former coach Larry Drew.
“It was just fun,” Teague said of the season. “Honestly, I wanted to play every game. I wanted to come to practice every day. I enjoyed it. There wasn’t a dull moment. Everything was fun. Everything was exciting.”
Budenholzer said the next step in Teague’s development is on defense. For all the talk about the coach’s offensive system of spreading the floor, playing with pace and player and ball movement, he believes it all starts with defense.
“I want him to continue to grow, especially defensively,” Budenholzer said. “I think he can really have a big impact on the game there and with his aggressiveness from the start of the game to the end of the game, from the start of the season to the end of the season.
“I think he knows how much we believe in him and how much I believe in him and how good he can be. He can be even better. We are going to stay on him. We are going to be honest with him. We are going to push him. Hopefully, there is a lot of positive reinforcement along with the subtle and sometimes not so subtle pushing.”
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Credit: Courtesy Roman United / Jason Getz