The Indiana Pacers, Utah Jazz and Atlanta Hawks made a huge point-guard trade ahead of the NBA draft. SI.com breaks down the Jeff Teague-George Hill swap.
The Pacers acquired All-Star point guard Jeff Teague from the Hawks on Wednesday in a three-team deal that sent George Hill from Indiana to Utah and the Jazz’s No. 12 pick in the 2016 NBA draft to Atlanta.
To analyze the deal, SI.com’s Ben Golliver dishes his trade grades for the Pacers, Jazz and Hawks.
Indiana Pacers Grade: B-
Pacers acquire: Jeff Teague
This is shaping up to be the summer of sideways moves for the Pacers, who ditched coach Frank Vogel and replaced him with assistant Nate McMillan and then traded one pretty good point guard on an $8 million expiring contract for another pretty good point guard on an $8 million expiring contract.
As with the Vogel decision, this trade seems rooted in a basic desire to change for change’s sake. It’s not all that surprising that the Pacers elected to move on from the defense-first Hill (12.1 PPG, 3.5 APG) to the more dynamic Teague (15.7 PPG, 5.9 APG). Indiana’s 23rd-ranked offense floundered last season despite the return of Paul George, and Teague matches Hill’s outside shooting ability while also adding more off-the-dribble potency and playmaking for others. Throw in the fact that Teague is two years younger, and Indiana can optimistically view this as a move that improves the Pacers’ offense immediately and helps their long-term outlook too.
There are concerns. First, Teague reportedly played through a knee injury last season. Second, the Hawks weren’t able to recapture their 2015 chemistry last season, and Teague occasionally was benched for back-up Dennis Schroder down the stretch. Third, Teague grades far worse than Hill defensively: Hill ranked 14th among point guards in Defensive Real Plus-Minus last season, while Teague ranked 55th. Fourth, Teague is entering a contract year, and he will likely command far more than Hill on the 2017 market if he plays to his full stat-producing potential. That could wind up forcing the Pacers to pay big money to retain a point guard who, while selected to the 2015 All-Star team, isn’t a truly elite player at that position.
On balance, this feels like a move in which the Pacers addressed one weakness (playmaking) while creating another (point-guard defense). Teague should arrive motivated, given his contract situation, and he should relish the opportunity to run the show without Schroder breathing down his neck. For that reason, acquiring Teague could pay off nicely this season. The better he performs, the harder the Pacers will need to swallow when it comes time to re-sign him in July 2017.
Utah Jazz Grade: A
Jazz acquire: George Hill
I’ve been screaming for the Jazz to find a competent point guard for at least 11 straight months. They did it! They did it!
There’s risk any time an up-and-coming team parts with a lottery pick for a veteran on an expiring contract, but this looks like the right time and the right place to gamble. For starters, Hill’s on-ball stopper skills will fit in perfectly with the Jazz’s strong defense. Despite losing center Rudy Gobert for much of last season, Utah ranked seventh in defensive efficiency. With the addition of Hill and the return of big guard Dante Exum from a knee injury, the Jazz should be a top-five defense next season with anything resembling good health.
Although Hill doesn’t exactly fill Utah’s glaring need for a playmaker to help ease the burden on Gordon Hayward, remember that the Jazz have Rodney Hood in the fold and they will get Alec Burks back from injury as well. One could argue that a floor-spacing, catch-and-shoot option was more of a priority than a ball-dominant lead guard, and Hill is a career 38% three-point shooter who should be up to that task.
The worst-case scenario here is Hill decides he doesn’t like Utah and moves on next summer in free agency. Even if that’s how it plays out, the Jazz will benefit from a year of tutelage from Hill for Exum and, even more importantly, they should be able to get back into the playoff picture for the first time since 2012. Given the lack of depth at the point guard position in this year’s draft crop, it’s reasonable to conclude that there wouldn’t have been a point guard available at No. 12 who was capable of stepping in immediately to make that type of impact.
Big picture, this is a Jazz team that was ready to turn the corner last season. Now, it’s past time for them to show progress up the standings. With Hill, Utah should be able to get it done through superior defense and improved offense. The idea of using Hill, Exum, Hood and Hayward in interchangeable smaller lineups is a tasty one, as is the prospect of bringing Exum back from injury at his own pace rather than forcing him to handle a full-time starter’s load from Day One.
There’s one last important question to ask: What was the Jazz’s best-case scenario at No. 12? Assuming that the top-ranked point guards like Kris Dunn and Jamal Murray were off the board, was there really a prospect who would be able to carve out a role in next year’s rotation given how much young talent is already assembled? Their best option, then, might have been taking on a project like Skal Labissiere in hopes of hitting a Gobert-like home run down the road.
Given how long they’ve been rebuilding, how close they came to the playoffs last season, and how high their ceiling already was on defense, it’s very hard to blame the Jazz for opting for the short-term known quantity over the longer-term long shot. In fact, this looks like a decision worthy of sincere praise.
Atlanta Hawks Grade: C+
Hawks acquire: 12th pick
It’s best to reserve full judgment on Atlanta’s end of this until Thursday’s draft plays out. For now, the Hawks solved their point guard log jam by turning over the keys to Schroder, who put up similar per-minutes numbers to Teague last season despite being five years younger and coming off the bench. The 2013 first-round pick certainly seems ready to run his own team as he enters the final year of his rookie contract, and now should get that chance in Atlanta.
The Hawks, frankly, had bigger issues than trying to keep Teague happy: they need to do everything they can to re-sign leading free agent Al Horford, they need to come up with enough money to make a competitive offer to Kent Bazemore, they need to prepare to pay Schroder on a rookie extension (sooner) or as a restricted free agent (later), and they need to start thinking about getting younger given Kyle Korver’s diminished production last season and the team’s disheartening second-round exit. Teague will be chasing money next summer and, given Schroder’s presence, Atlanta correctly identified him Teague as expendable and smartly moved him out in a proactive manner.
While the logic and execution was sound, the value wasn’t great. Teague is one year removed from an All-Star season, he’s entering his prime and he’s on a reasonable contract this year. In return, Atlanta receives the 12th pick in a lackluster draft. Perhaps the return will look better if this move leads to further packaging by the Hawks, but for now it’s hard to shake the thought that Atlanta, a team that wants to compete right now and throughout the duration of the Horford/Paul Millsap run, should have done a little better here.