Offseason drama over, Hawks count on Jeff Teague

The ball is in Jeff Teague’s court.

How the Hawks’ point guard plays, fresh off offseason drama in receiving a $32 million commitment, will be a major factor in the success of the team this season and beyond. The point guard is a key to the motion-oriented offense that new coach Mike Budenholzer has implemented.

“We’ve been emphasizing to the group that we have to play with pace,” Budenholzer said. “(Teague) is, to a certain degree, the engine that does that. If he is pushing it up, that’s going to make everyone else run. If he’s sharing, that will make everybody else share.”

With the regular-season opener days away, the Hawks’ offense is a work in progress after a 1-6 exhibition season. Teague will be at the center of the transition after another offseason roster makeover.

Teague received a qualifying offer from the Hawks as a restricted free agent this summer. The Hawks used one of their first-round draft picks on point guard Dennis Schroder. In July the Bucks, and former Hawks coach Larry Drew, came calling. They signed Teague to a four-year, $32 million offer sheet in July. Teague said he was ready to move on after four seasons in Atlanta.

However, three days later the Hawks matched the offer. Now, it’s time for both sides to move forward.

“Al (Horford) texted me a couple of times and said ‘I really want you to come back,’” said Teague, who acknowledged the process was not easy. “I said ‘I really want to come back; it’s just not working out right now.’ It all worked out for the best. I’m happy to be back here. Al is my guy. We are glad to be working together for the next four years.”

Teague is coming off last season’s career-highs with 14.6 points and 7.2 assists that included 15 double-doubles. His 10 20-point, 10-assist games were the third-highest single-season total in Atlanta history.

Teague finished 12th in the NBA is assists and he helped the Hawks to the second-best assist total in the NBA at 24.5 per game.

It’s a new season, a new coach and a new system. The Hawks need a new Teague.

“Where he passes and cuts and where he goes will dictate some of the different reads and some of the different actions,” Budenholzer said. “There is a lot of responsibility on him in a lot of different ways. To be honest, hopefully it will come natural and be something he feels very comfortable doing. He is a really important part of it.”

Teague appeared in six of the Hawks’ exhibition games. He averaged 11.5 points, 5.5 assists, 1.2 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 2.6 turnovers in 34 minutes. Teague said much of his offseason work was concentrated on reducing his turnovers and securing the basketball.

Horford said he has already noticed a difference in Teague.

“He is, for sure, more confident,” Horford said. “I know it’s very early, but it’s encouraging to see him coming along and playing with that edge and being great. I encouraged to see his improvement.”

Teague will get relief at point guard from Schroder at times during the regular season. There were times during the preseason when Budenholzer had both guards on the court at the same time, moving Teague to the off-guard spot. However, the ball will be in Teague’s hands the majority of the time.

“I love playing with the ball in my hands,” Teague said. “That’s always the best situation for me. Pick-and-rolls always make the game so much easier. With Al having the ability to pick-and-pop and having shooters like Lou (Williams) and Kyle (Korver), they can really make shots. It makes my job a lot easier.”

Time will tell how long it takes the Hawks to adjust to and effectively run their new offense. Teague will be right in the middle of it all.

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