Hawks Acquire Jeff Teague From Timberwolves

Ben Ladner

There’s something poetic about the fact that Jeff Teague, the starting point guard on the most successful Hawks team of the last 60 years, will now back up the team’s star of the next era. Atlanta acquired Jeff Teague from the Wolves Thursday afternoon, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported, in a much-needed and long-expected move for a backup point guard.

At first blush, this trade addresses a major short-term need for Atlanta at a low cost with little realistic downside. Allen Crabbe, whom the Hawks gave up in the deal, had his moments this season but struggled to stay healthy and had been fading from the rotation. Teague and Graham, meanwhile, can make a winning impact for a team growing frustrated with losing. Both are on expiring contracts (as is Crabbe) and provide far more value on those deals than Crabbe did at his $18.5 million salary. The Hawks had an open roster spot, which allowed them to send out one player and take back two. No draft picks were included in the trade.

There is some element of rectification here on Atlanta’s part. Trae Young has shouldered one of the heaviest usage rates in the NBA this season and the Hawks are14 points per 100 possessions worse on offense with him off the court – a product of not having a capable offensive steward on the second unit. Atlanta brought in Evan Turner over the offseason to play backup point guard before cycling DeAndre Bembry, Kevin Huerter, and Brandon Goodwin through that role while Turner mostly remained on the bench. That has placed an onerous responsibility onto Young, who plays over 35 taxing minutes per game, which could have negative long-term repercussions for the franchise.

“What we’re always worried about is the long term,” Lloyd Pierce said. “Has it affected him yet? No, but he’s got to be mindful of the long-term effect.”

Teague, who spent the first seven years of his career with the Hawks, should, at the very least, provide Young some respite from carrying such an outsize load and stabilize the Hawks’ offense while its star rests. He isn’t a perfect player, but has long been a solid distributor and shooter for a point guard. While he isn’t as dynamic as he once was, brings a degree of steadiness to the floor that the Hawks glaringly lack without Young. Teague is reliable, if unexciting, and will neither raise nor lower a team’s performance to any significant degree.

That makes him somewhat underwhelming in a starting role, but perfectly suitable as a backup. He can share the floor with Young in certain alignments and has the strength and quickness to defend some of the point guards Young can’t. He can operate with the ball in his hands or space the floor around other creators. Teague drives to the basket more than 13 times per game and, like Young, likes to get into the lane and draw contact or loft floaters over shot-blockers. Teague ranks in the 90 percentile leaguewide this season in pick-and-roll scoring efficiency and has shot 38 percent on a limited volume of pull-up 3s.

“Just a very underrated point guard,” Young said of his new teammate. “He’s very smart, really good scorer, knows how to draw fouls, knows how to get his teammates involved. He’s just, for me, I think one of the underrated point guards in our league.”

That should make things easier not only on Young, but on the rest of Atlanta’s young players as well. Kevin Huerter can work almost exclusively as a secondary creator rather than a backup point guard while John Collins now has another player capable of collapsing defenses and setting up easy buckets. De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish can assume lower-usage roles, with the comfort that comes with having a veteran point guard on the second unit. All can benefit from Teague’s professionalism and steadiness both on and off the floor.

Graham may look like a throw-in in this deal, but could prove far more valuable than that to Atlanta. The fourth-year wing is a strong and versatile defender capable of defending whatever position necessary. He guarded Young when the Timberwolves visited Atlanta in November, but has spent time on wings and power forwards across the league. Graham has been an offensive liability the last two years, shooting just 27.5 percent on 3-pointers since the 2019 season, but shot the ball well on an admittedly miniscule sample of attempts in his first two NBA seasons.

It’s unlikely Graham’s arrival affects the minutes or roles of Hunter or Reddish, though Pierce should still be able to find room for him in the rotation at one of the two forward spots. Things may not be as easy for Brandon Goodwin, who is the clearest victim of Teague’s arrival. The 24-year-old has played well in 12 games on a two-way contract and been the Hawks’ backup point guard since late December. But Teague offers more size and expertise at his position, and the Hawks don’t have enough invested in Goodwin to prioritize his development over Teague’s immediate impact.

Earlier in the season, The Athletic reported that a Hawks official told Young help was on its way, and Atlanta has actively explored the trade market ever since. With three weeks until the trade deadline, the team delivered. “I trust our front office, I trust the people in this organization that they’re going to do their best to help build this thing the right way,” Young said. “For me that’s all I can do, just trust in them. They believe in me, I believe in them. They’re going to make the right moves to get this thing going some more.”

The Hawks drafted Teague 19 overall in 2009 (the same slot in which Collins and Huerter were selected), traded him seven years later for the pick that became Taurean Prince, whom Atlanta later dealt to Brooklyn for Crabbe and a draft pick. Things came full-circle on Thursday, and while Teague’s role will vastly different this time around, he’ll come to Atlanta with a chance to make a difference. 

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