Moving without ball is next step for Teague

Even an All-Star point guard has room for improvement.

Jeff Teague makes the Hawks’ offense function. The point guard has excelled with the ball in his hands as he directs the up-tempo system predicated on ball movement and floor spacing. Teague advanced so far as to be selected to the All-Star Game for this first time last season.

He can do more.

Teague still has to overcome some habits instilled in him when he broke into the NBA with the Hawks seven years ago. Then, he directed an isolation-oriented offense. Over the past two seasons he has adapted to the antithesis under head coach Mike Budenholzer. The next step is for Teague to be one of those moving parts when he doesn’t have the ball.

“Offensively, at times he can play with more energy when he is off the ball when we talk about some habits that need to break,” Budenholzer said. “I think when the ball is in his hands, he has gotten to where he does everything we expect and need him to do. I think sometimes off the ball he can grow. He can screen and cut better. He can do more things where he is more active and maybe the ball comes back to him. That is an area of improvement. I do think the ball will come back to him if he is more active and doing more things when he is off of it.”

Teague understands. There are more opportunities for him if he is the one slashing to the basket. When the Hawks talk about getting to the second and third levels of their offensive during a possession, he can become an option after his initial facilitation.

“Running the lanes, cutting without the ball when other people have it, when the ball is in the post slashing a little more, things like that,” Teague said. “I’ll probably get a lot more easier baskets if I cut without the ball, move to the open space, I can get more open looks.

“It’s the way we play. We play with a lot of movement. Previous teams I was on, it was more stay in space and let guys work.”

Teague averaged 15.2 points per game last season, the first time his scoring average didn’t increase as a professional. And it was down only slightly, from 16.5 points. He averaged 7.0 assists and a career-best 1.7 steals. He ranked eighth in the NBA in assists. His direction of the Hawks’ offense earned him as spot on the all-star team.

Budenholzer appreciates the development of Teague. There seems to no longer be a question as to whether he can direct the offense.

“He has come a long way,” Budenholzer said. “His willingness and openness to embrace playing a little bit differently. I think the whole team still has a way to go and Jeff isn’t any different. He has come a long way as far as being our engine and being the guy who facilitates and balances scoring and assists. It’s hard to put a number on how far he has come, how far he has to go. I’ll just say he’s come a long, long way.”

Teague spent most of his offseason in Atlanta – playing as much as possible.

“Basketball, basketball, basketball,” Teague said of his summer. “I just like playing basketball, period. I’m just in the gym shooting around or playing 5-on-5. I can’t stay away from it.”

As for those improvements, Teague said he has dedicated himself to being more aggressive without the ball but admits it’s something he’s still getting used to. He has time and, it turns out, a pretty good track record.