Jeff Teague is fast, athletic, a fine ballhandler and a good defender on the ball.
Now the Hawks point guard just needs to add some bite to his game. Enter assistant coach Nick Van Exel, whom coach Larry Drew has instructed to help Teague play with more edge.
“We call it ‘the dog’ in the NBA,” Van Exel said. “We are trying to bring that dog out of him.”
For Van Exel, unleashing “the dog” came naturally as a player. It was evident in his brash and confident personality, attacking style and knack for making buzzer-beating shots.
That kind of aggression doesn't come naturally for Teague.
“He’s kind of a quiet kid,” Van Exel said. “He likes to joke around and have fun. But there are times when somebody makes him mad, and he is just blowing by guys. And we are like, ‘Man, you’ve got to to that all the time.’
“He can do it. He has those skills. We are thinking about maybe going up to him and making him mad before every game, making up stuff just to get him going.”
Teague sometimes shows flashes of fire, such as when he angrily protested a foul called by Mike Bibby during a recent pickup game and then attacked the basket with zeal. Hawks coaches want to see that spark all the time.
“He has all the tools,” Van Exel said. “It’s just a matter of him bringing an aggressive style and approach to the game every night. Skill-wise, I think he is up there with the best of them. He can shoot it. He can get in the lane anytime he wants. He can break the defense down. He has all the skills.”
Van Exel retired from playing after the 2005-06 season. He ranked among the league’s top eight in assists in five seasons and in the top 10 in 3-pointers made in four seasons.
Van Exel said he had planned to take a couple of years off after retiring and then get an NBA coaching gig, but that didn’t work out. He was an assistant coach at Texas Southern in Houston when Drew called.
“This is really I wanted to be,” he said. “It is great to be back [in the NBA].”
The Hawks had their first live scrimmage action near the end of practice Thursday morning, and it was clear there will be an adjustment period as they adopt Drew's motion offense. After relying on isolation plays for so long, it's an abrupt change for the Hawks to run sets that sometimes seem frenzied.
“We saw a lot of good things out of it, but we got a little helter-skelter at times,” guard Joe Johnson said. “But if you run it right, you definitely can get open shots out of it.”
Drew plans to have all of the plays installed by the end of training camp Sunday.
“They kind of know the shell of it, we are just adding different options of it,” he said. “Some of this is going to be a learning experience, especially when they go against a defense. The tendency is to speed up and get out of control.
“But for the most part, they executed the plays we pretty much worked on these first five practices.”
Al Horford (ankle), Pape Sy (back) and Mo Evans (knee) sat out practice Thursday morning. Jamal Crawford's back tightened during the session, but he finished.